Under the state’s new abortion law, doctors are not allowed to prescribe abortion pills before a patient’s embryo is visible on an ultrasound, which happens at about five or six weeks.
Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and Dr. Beverly Gray, a Duke OB-GYN, are asking a federal court judge to put a freeze on that provision of the law and on another that requires abortions after 12 weeks gestation be performed in hospitals rather than clinics.
The new law that took effect July 1 bans most abortions after 12 weeks. In cases of rape or incest, abortions are legal though 20 weeks. In cases of “life-limiting” anomalies, abortions are legal through 24 weeks.
Although US District Court Judge Catherine Eagles in June decided not to put a hold on most of law, the hospital requirement and the requirement for doctors to confirm the location of pregnancies by ultrasound before prescribing abortion pills remained unresolved. The hospital requirement is scheduled to take effect on Sunday, October 1. Eagles said at a hearing Monday that she’d have a decision on a preliminary injunction by Saturday.
The requirement for ultrasound images and limits abortions at clinics were included in the law for safety reasons, Erik Baptist told Eagles at Monday’s hearing. Baptist is senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom and represented Republican legislative leaders in the case.
The limit on early prescriptions for abortion pills is to prevent them from being prescribed to women with ectopic pregnancies, Baptist said. Abortion pills do not end ectopic pregnancies and the FDA says they should not be prescribed in those cases.
Abortions after 12 weeks are more likely to have complications, and when performed in clinics, to require traumatizing trips to the hospital, he said.
Hannah Swanson, senior staff attorney at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told Eagles that the provisions “have no rational relationship to health and safety.”
It doesn’t make sense to allow a clinic to perform procedures to treat miscarriages and ban it from using those same procedures for abortions, she said.
Planned Parenthood South Atlantic performed 38,795 abortions between Jan. 1, 2020 and June 30, 2023, Swanson said, and 0.08 percent of those patients had complications that required a trip to a hospital. Most of those patients who were transferred to a hospital were not admitted.
“Hospital requirements do not make abortion any safer than it already is. It just delays people getting abortion,” she said.
Using a different time frame, Baptist calculated that 0.52 percent of patients who had abortions required transfer to a hospital.
He argued that Planned Parenthood doesn’t have standing to ask for the preliminary injunction because it does not have a close relationship with patients.
Planned Parenthood screens patients for ectopic pregnancy risk, Swanson said.
Prescriptions for pills are provided in conjunction with blood tests for a pregnancy hormone. The difference between the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy and the side effects of abortion pills are explained to patients, she said.
With the regime of providing abortion pills in conjunction with a series of blood tests and frequent contact with an abortion provider, ectopic pregnancies are found sooner than when people are told to go home and wait until their pregnancies are far enough along to be seen on an ultrasound, Swanson said.
If clinics must stop providing abortions for patients who are more than 12 weeks pregnant, rape and incest victims and patients whose fetuses have life-limiting anomalies will have to travel longer distances and pay more, Molly Rivera, communications director at Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said after the hearing.
Most people seeking medication abortion come for appointments when they’re six to eight weeks pregnant, but some come in earlier, Rivera said.
“The legislature said medication abortion is legal though 12 weeks. It won’t be — it can’t be — if it can’t be visible on an ultrasound,” she said.
NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: [email protected]. Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.
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