RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – You surely know that the North Carolina General Assembly voted Tuesday night to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto and enact a new law that defines when, how and where a woman can have a legal abortion.
The main headline is, of course, that elective abortions can be obtained up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, down from the 20-week limit that had been enacted last summer after the U.S. Supreme Court in its Boggs decision took down Roe v. Wade’s national limits that the justices had reaffirmed in their Casey decision. Most abortions now are banned in 14 states.
But Senate Bill 20, passed by NC Republicans along party lines, is more complex than that headline, and the law doesn’t even all take effect at once. The change about the windows for legal abortions becomes law as of July 1, when the state’s new fiscal year begins, but some details will be rolled out through the rest of the year.
You may be confused by those details and the rhetoric you’ve heard from politicians and observers, so here are some key points that may help explain how the law could affect you if you are considering abortion.
What are the new specific limits?
Effective July 1, you can have an elective abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy – as measured by a physician.
In cases of rape and incest, that window remains at 20 weeks, with no requirement for a report to law enforcement.
If you are pregnant and tests show a life-limiting anomaly for your fetus, you legally can have an abortion up to 24 weeks, which was the limit in Roe v. Wade.
If there is a threat to the life of the mother, there is no limit to when a physician can perform an abortion.
Can I use mifepristone for a medical abortion?
Yes, there is no change in state law regarding mifepristone, which is the most widely used form of abortion in North Carolina (and the U.S.). As current law stipulates, you must receive the first dose from a physician in that doctor’s office.
Mifepristone typically is used in a cocktail with a second drug called misoprostol. Misoprostol is under no restraints but is less popular because of its side effects.
One thing to note: A U.S. Court of Appeals in Louisiana is considering the Biden administration’s challenge to a U.S. District Court judge’s decision that would remove the FDA’s approval of mifepristone. The U.S. Supreme Court, which kept the drug on the market during this litigation, likely will be the final arbiter on this again.
SB 20 also establishes a $5,000 fine for organizations that illegally market these drugs.
Do I have to go through an approval process to obtain an abortion?
There is a stipulated process that requires a 72-hour waiting period before an abortion can begin. A pregnant woman would have to see a physician, who is required to prove that the gestational age of the fetus is no more than 10 weeks. There are forms to fill out with various pieces of data, including fetal heartbeats. After that visit, the abortion would be performed after 72 hours, which is designed to give the woman time to make an informed decision. The process also requires a follow-up visit with that same doctor 1 to 2 weeks after an abortion.
What if there is an abortion after that 12-week window?
Any abortion conducted after the second trimester must be performed in a hospital or a medical facility that meets the specifications of a hospital. All those facilities must be licensed by DHHS, and that program doesn’t begin until Oct. 1.
Critics of the bill say that means some current abortion clinics in North Carolina – such as those operated by Planned Parenthood – won’t meet that specification and thus close, meaning there could be significant travel required for some residents to reach a licensed facility.
There also are significant requirements for the physician performing that later abortion, including providing demographic and medical history of the woman and a schedule for follow-up visits. There also will be new licensing for a certified nurse midwife.
What other aspects of the bill are designed to help women and children?
There are a lot of details to be worked out, and the Senate and House continue to wrangle over their biennial budget, which must include some of this.
The bill’s backers tout $7 million that is said to be included in the budget to support reversible contraception, but Sen. Natalie Murdock (D-Durham) is complaining that this, coupled with the Senate’s budget, permanently defunds the distribution of contraceptives and family planning advice by Planned Parenthood.
The bill also sets aside $20 million to allow for up to 8 weeks of paid maternity and paternity leave – including for adoption and foster care – for teachers and state employees. This is over and above that person’s allotments for paid vacation and sick leave.
There also is more than $5 million budgeted to expand assistance to foster parents. There are subsidies for child care for low-income families, and as of Oct. 1, there is additional funding for the state’s Maternity Home Fund and the state’s safe-surrender program (which was the original content of Senate Bill 20 before it was gutted).