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North Carolina lawmakers send governor last-minute changes to state’s recently passed abortion law


By Dianne Gallagher, CNN

(CNN) — The North Carolina General Assembly on Tuesday gave final approval to a bill that includes some last-minute changes to the state’s recently passed abortion law.

The Republican-controlled legislature sent the bill to the Democratic governor’s desk, just a day before a federal judge is set to hear a motion seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent the abortion law from taking effect. The new law, which bans most abortions after 12 weeks, is set to go into effect on July 1.

CNN has reached out to Gov. Roy Cooper’s office about his plans for the bill.

The surprise amendment, which makes significant tweaks to the new abortion law, was added to House Bill 190, an unrelated measure focusing on the Department of Health and Human Services late last week in the state Senate.

In a Tuesday filing in opposition to granting the temporary restraining order, on behalf of Republican House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger, attorneys admitted that the changes contained in the amendment were addressing issues raised by the lawsuit.

“The Legislative Leaders respectfully request that the Court deny the Motion for Temporary Restraining Order (‘TRO’), and permit normal briefing on preliminary injunction issues, if any, that may remain,” wrote W. Ellis Boyle, an attorney for Moore and Berger. “The General Assembly is working to pass and enact, with or without the Governor’s signature, a technical and conforming bill to make changes to clarify and address most, if not all, aspects of Plaintiffs’ claims about the Act.”

The lawsuit filed earlier this month by Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, along with other organizations and an OB/GYN, claims the legislation contains several inconsistencies and vague language that could potentially violate constitutional rights.

For example, the lawsuit questions whether a provision stating it is unlawful “after the twelfth week of a woman’s pregnancy to advise, procure, or cause a miscarriage or abortion” would prevent a person from legally providing information about how to obtain a legal, out-of-state abortion – something the lawsuit says would be a First Amendment violation. The new amendment would remove the word “advise” from that portion of the law’s text.

Another measure that has been repeatedly highlighted in debate is language that regulates medication abortion. CNN has reported that while the law bans most abortions after 12 weeks into a pregnancy, it adds a separate, 10-week deadline for medication abortion in one section.

The lawsuit notes that instructions for physicians providing medication abortions are contradictory. “In one section, the Act states that abortion is lawful ‘during the first 12 weeks of a woman’s pregnancy when a medical abortion is procured,’ but in another section, it requires physicians who provide medication abortion to ‘verify the probable gestational age of the unborn child is no more than 70 days,’ or ten weeks.” The amendment would strike the “70-days” language from the law.

State Attorney General Josh Stein is named as the lead defendant in the lawsuit, due to his role representing the state in challenges to state laws. However, Stein – a Democrat who is running for governor – said last week his office will not defend parts of the new law that he has determined are unconstitutional.

In a weekend filing, Stein reiterated that he agreed with the plaintiffs that the law was unconstitutional, and referenced the recently passed amendments as evidence.

“S.B. 20 cannot satisfy this standard—and the General Assembly has effectively conceded as much. Last week, the legislature introduced a series of amendments designed to revise many of the unconstitutional provisions identified in this lawsuit,” wrote Stein in the filing.

“If those amendments are passed, they may remedy some of the constitutional violations that Plaintiffs allege. But unless and until the current law is repealed or significantly amended, immediate injunctive relief is necessary to avoid a due-process violation,” he continued. “Moreover, even if the legislature’s proposed amendments do pass, at least one constitutional problem with S.B. 20 will remain: even the currently proposed revisions to S.B. 20 fail to make clear that doctors in North Carolina can help their patients obtain abortions out of state.”

District Judge Catherine Eagles is set to hear the motion for the temporary restraining order Wednesday morning in Greensboro.

Cooper has 10 days to take action on the amended House Bill 190. There are no line item vetoes in North Carolina, so to veto the amendment, he would have to veto the whole bill.

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