Appeals court ‘life begins at conception’ ruling withdrawn

By: - November 10, 2023 5:15 am

The NC Court of Appeals Building – Photo:

A controversial opinion published by the North Carolina Court of Appeals last month has been withdrawn, effectively making it as if it were never written.

The decision dealt with the termination of a mother’s parental rights because she had committed a crime while she was pregnant. Judge Hunter Murphy, a Republican running in a primary against at least two opponents, ruled that her parental rights could be terminated — even though the child hadn’t yet been born at the time of the mother’s crimes — because “life begins at conception.”

Legal professionals criticized the ruling, which they said misconstrued the precedent on which it relied, and warned it could profoundly affect families across the state. Maxine Eichner, the Graham Kenan Distinguished Professor of Law at UNC-Chapel law school, previously told Newsline the decision was rooted in the idea of “personhood,” a concept championed by the anti-abortion movement to define a fetus as a person from the moment of conception.

“We have a case of judicial activism here, where rather than other entities like the legislature trying to enshrine personhood, we have judges doing this,” she said.

On Thursday, Eugene H. Soar, clerk of the North Carolina Court of Appeals, signed an order stating that Judges Murphy, Jefferson Griffin and Toby Hampson — all of whom concurred in the opinion, though Hampson concurred in result only, meaning he agreed with the outcome but not the reasoning — had ordered that the opinion be withdrawn. That means the potential precedent it had established regarding personhood no longer exists.

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Kelan Lyons
Kelan Lyons

Investigative Reporter Kelan Lyons writes about criminal and civil justice, including high-profile litigation, prison and jail conditions, housing, and the challenges people face when they leave prison.