News and Commentary

Federal Court Upholds Decision On North Carolina Abortion Law
The beginning of a beautiful bond - stock photo Closeup shot of an unrecognizable pregnant woman holding an ultrasound scan Adene Sanchez via Getty Images
Adene Sanchez via Getty Images

In a ruling on Wednesday, a federal U.S. Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a previous decision regarding North Carolina’s abortion law.

At week 16 gestation, a baby’s eyes begin to move, the skin becomes thicker, and movements of limbs become coordinated.

At week 17, a child’s toenails develop, and it can roll and flip in the amniotic sac.

At week 18, a baby can start to hear.

At week 19, a baby’s first set of teeth are developing.

As reported by Raleigh’s local media outlet, “North Carolina cannot enforce a state law that sought to tighten restrictions on abortions, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday in one of the latest challenges to existing abortion law.”

In 1973, North Carolina enacted an exception to its abortion ban that allowed abortions after the twentieth week of pregnancy. In 2015, North Carolina created modifications to abortion exceptions including a 72-hour waiting period for a woman before she gets an abortion. They also required that the Department of Health and Human Services inspect abortion clinics each year, along with other directives.

The 2015 amendments also changed the 20-week exception and the exception for medical emergencies, defining the type of doctors that can perform an abortion “during the first 20 weeks of a woman’s pregnancy” to “qualified physician[s]” and narrowed the definition of “medical emergency.” 

In 2016, abortion providers challenged the action, saying that it was unconstitutional to allow for the “State’s criminalization of previability abortions,” per Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit’s published opinion. The opinion stated, “the district court awarded summary judgment to the Providers and enjoined the State from enforcing [the 20-week abortion exception] as applied to previability abortions.” North Carolina had appealed the district court’s decision, arguing that the abortion providers did not have standing to bring the suit due to the fact that “they do not face a credible threat of prosecution for violation of the challenged provisions.”

The court’s documentation explained that after the Supreme Court decision in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case, North Carolina allowed for abortions to be performed prior to the twentieth week of a woman’s pregnancy.

The court found that even though abortion providers had not been prosecuted for perhaps performing abortions after the 20-week threshold, the state still “has a renewed interest in regulating abortion.” It discussed the state’s recent amendments and the fact that other states have taken action to ban abortions. The court decided that the “threat of prosecution to abortion providers who violate the law” is credible, and upheld the lower court’s decision.

The federal court decided, “we agree with the district court that the Providers have established a credible threat of prosecution and therefore have standing to bring this suit.”

The decision comes as the Supreme Court is set to hear a case out of Mississippi where most abortions are banned after 15 weeks. It sets the stage for a potential overturning of the Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood decisions, which said that a woman can get an abortion up to the point of viability, or when a fetus can survive on its own.

The perception of pregnancy changes dramatically based on the implications of the conversation.

At 20 weeks, the “What To Expect” network describes what might start happening inside a woman’s body as her child continues to form. “If you didn’t start feeling your baby-to-be’s punches and kicks last week, you may this week — and it’s the best! But it could take a little longer,” it says. It adds that babies might start sucking their thumbs inside the womb soon as they work on sucking reflexes. Gender revelations can typically take place around the 20th week of pregnancy.

If a woman is going to have a baby girl, this is the week of pregnancy when the baby’s uterus is fully formed, meaning that one day, that pregnant mother might be a grandmother, the site notes. “Your little girl also has primitive eggs in tiny ovaries now, about 7 million of them. By birth, that number will be down to 1 or 2 million,” it adds.

Infants are mostly considered to be viable after 24 weeks gestation, with their chances of survival dropping to less than 50% if they are born before then, according to University of Utah health. According to a 2001 report from the National Library of Medicine, based on data reviewed at the time, it found that “intensive care should be an optional choice for fetuses at 23 and 24 weeks of gestation and should be offered to every fetus at 25 weeks or more.”

Laws are important, and decisions that are made will affect the outcome of people’s lives, but when it comes to abortion, the conversation often shifts to viability when perhaps it should shift to the obvious outcome if a woman does not go through with an abortion: the birth of a human.

In the court’s recent decision on the North Carolina law, the conversation centered on the penalization of abortion providers and the prospect of such punishments taking place — rightly so, as the law was the primary concern — but as states take measures to increase abortion restrictions or push for more access to abortion, there should be a discussion about the pain caused not to the abortion providers who might be penalized, but to the women and children who are most negatively impacted by the nature of abortion.

At 20 weeks, a baby is “as big as a sweet potato.”

This article has been expanded after publication to include additional information.

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