Ultrasound documentation requirement for abortion pills will remain on hold

By: - July 10, 2023 5:00 pm

Crowd at the Bicentennial Mall in Raleigh waiting for Gov. Roy Cooper to veto the abortion ban.

The court-ordered freeze on a section of North Carolina’s new abortion law will remain in place  to allow more time for more written arguments. 

The initial, 14-day freeze on the requirement that doctors prescribing abortion pills confirm that fertilized eggs had implanted in the uterus was set to expire this week. Most sections of the law banning most abortions in North Carolina after 12 weeks took effect July 1.

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the bill. The Republican-led legislature voted to override his veto.

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and a Duke University OB/GYN filed a federal suit before the law took effect. US District Court Judge Catherine Eagles decided not to delay the entire law as the providers wanted. The legislature passed a bill clearing up discrepancies in the original law that providers highlighted in their lawsuit. Two issues in the lawsuit remain unresolved. 

The providers’ lawsuit said it was unclear whether pills could be prescribed if an intrauterine pregnancy couldn’t be seen on an ultrasound. 

Pills are the most commonly used abortion method in the country. Nearly 60% of those seeking abortions in North Carolina in 2020 had medication abortions, according to the CDC. Abortion pills can be prescribed through 12 weeks of pregnancy. 

At the June 28 hearing, the lawyer representing Republican legislative leaders said the requirement to document intrauterine pregnancies was for safety and to guard against prescribing pills in cases of ectopic pregnancies. 

A lawyer for Planned Parenthood said during the hearing that some people seek abortion care very early in their pregnancies, when evidence is not visible in ultrasound images. 

A section of the law requiring abortions after 12 weeks take place in hospitals rather than clinics also remains unresolved. The new law allows abortions through 20 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape or incest.  

Eagles postponed consideration of that issue because it would not take effect until Oct. 1. 

Abortion providers said in their lawsuit that restricting care to hospitals after 12 weeks of pregnancy for victims of sexual assault would further harm them. 

A hearing on whether the court should stop enforcement of the hospital requirement, at least temporarily, is set for September 21.

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Lynn Bonner
Lynn Bonner

Investigative Reporter Lynn Bonner covers the state legislature and politics, as well as elections, the state budget, public and mental health, safety net programs and issues of racial equality.