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Planned Parenthood, medical professional respond to abortion ban law with lawsuit


Chapel Hill's Planned Parenthood location is pictured here on May 18, 2023. Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and a North Carolina health care provider filed a federal lawsuit on June 16 addressing parts of S.B. 20.

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and a North Carolina health care provider filed a federal lawsuit on June 16 addressing parts of Senate Bill 20 — a law that bans abortion in the state after 12 weeks of pregnancy. 

Both houses of the NC General Assembly approved S.B. 20 about 48 hours after it was introduced. Though Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the bill, the Senate and the House overrode the veto. 

Molly Rivera, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic communications director, said after the veto was overridden, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic’s team of legal and medical experts began to look at the law to figure out how to comply with it. 

“That is when we realized how confusing a lot of the law is,” she said. “We identified many parts of the bill that appear to contradict each other, and that’s when we realized it was going to be very difficult for a provider like us to simply comply with this law because it was very unclear.”

Rivera said the lawsuit is not asking for a court to strike down S.B 20, but rather to address and clarify the specific restrictions and parts of the law that are vague or contradictory. 

She said that one part of the bill states that abortion is legal up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, but another part states that before performing a medical abortion, doctors must confirm that the pregnancy is no further than 10 weeks. 

“Some people might think that’s maybe not a big difference, but pregnancy care and abortion care are very time-sensitive,” Rivera said. “Days and weeks matter.”

Dr. Robin Wallace, a local physician, said the 48 hours it took Republican legislators to approve S.B 20 is less than the 72-hour period that a pregnant person must wait before they are able to receive an abortion.

“They are continuing to push off access and limit access, such that it becomes more and more impossible for people who want or need abortion care to get to a provider within that 12-week timeframe,” she said. 

Dr. Erica Pettigrew, a family medicine and public health physician, said even if the lawsuit is successful, it will not overturn S.B 20 or stop any “egregious” parts of the bill. 

“There’s really not any redeeming parts in this bill,” she said. “It’s 46 pages of at best, unnecessary things, and at worst, things that are adversely going to affect patient care and patient experiences.” 

Pettigrew said that she was not surprised to see that a lawsuit was filed against the bill. 

She said although one of the ways healthcare providers advocate for patients to have access to high-quality care is to practice the best care they can in the exam room. They also have to fight for it on the legal front, she said. 

“The fact that as a physician, I need to rely on keeping my fingers crossed that a reasonable judge helps us or allows us to take care of patients in the best way possible is just insane to me, that we’ve reached that level of political interference into the practice of medicine,” she said. 

Amber Gavin, the vice president of advocacy and operations at A Woman’s Choice, a reproductive healthcare clinic with multiple locations in North Carolina, said even though the lawsuit could potentially make changes, S.B 20 is still detrimental to reproductive healthcare and abortion access. 

“It’s really important that folks who are upset organize and talk to each other about abortion, and we work to vote out the politicians who are voting against our interests,” she said. 

Kristi Graunke, the legal director for ACLU of North Carolina, said the lawsuit is scheduled to be heard in a federal court in Greensboro next week. 

The judge will decide whether or not to issue a temporary restraining order, which would prevent the law from going into effect on July 1.

“We’re asking the court to block the law while we’re basically litigating it to the end,” she said. “And in order to do that, the court has to find a couple of things, including that people will be imminently harmed by this law.” 


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Lucy Marques

Lucy Marques is a 2023-24 assistant city & state editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She was previously a city & state senior writer. Lucy is a junior pursuing a double major in political science and Hispanic literatures and cultures.

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