RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – A federal magistrate judge granted North Carolina’s request for more time to investigate the viability of fetuses at between 20 and 26 weeks in an ongoing abortion law case.
Under North Carolina law, it is illegal for a doctor to perform an abortion after the fetus reaches 20 weeks unless there is a medical emergency.
The law further defines a medical emergency as one that may result in the physical impairment or death of the pregnant woman.
Three North Carolina doctors — Amy Bryant, Beverly Gray, and Elizabeth Deans — and Planned Parenthood South Atlantic are challenging the law, claiming viability does not occur before 24 weeks of pregnancy.
They also contend the law places unconstitutional limits on the allowable reasons for abortions to occur after 20 weeks of pregnancy, denying patients access to previability abortions.
They also claim that given the limits prescribed by the law, a patient with pre-existing health issues, or issues caused by the pregnancy, would have to wait until their condition seriously worsens (to the point of endangerment) before a physician could legally abort the fetus, putting the pregnant woman at a significantly higher risk.
Finally, the plaintiffs insist, under the current state law women learning of severe fetal abnormalities have only a small window in which to decide whether to terminate their pregnancy.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that fetus become viable after 24 weeks.
The state’s request for more time to research the viability issue came after the plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment.
According to the motion, which was filed by the North Carolina’s health secretary, the president of the North Carolina Medical Board, and two North Carolina district attorneys, the state needs more time to investigate whether any fetuses between 20 and 26 weeks in North Carolina meet the definition of “viable” as adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court; whether fetuses between 20 and 26 weeks experience pain, and whether abortions performed past the twentieth week of pregnancy poses a greater health risk to pregnant women.
U.S. Magistrate Judge L. Patrick Auld granted the state’s motion on April 7, holding that when defendants say they need discovery to respond to a summary judgment motion, she must abide with a Fourth Circuit ruling that such requests should be “broadly favored and should be liberally granted.”
The state now has until June 6 to file its response to the plaintiffs’ summary judgment motion.