Abortion restrictions across the South are leading to an overburdened system, and delays accessing abortion in states where abortion is legal, according to a court case in North Carolina this week.
Medical professionals asked a state court to to block a ban that prevents physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and certified nurse midwives, known as advanced practice clinicians, from performing medication abortions. If allowed, more people could access abortion services instead of facing an “insurmountable barrier,” according to SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, that filed the motion along with Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.
“The prohibition of qualified advanced practice clinicians providing medication abortion is completely arbitrary, medically unnecessary, and profoundly limits access to abortion in North Carolina,” said Anne Logan Bass, a nurse practitioner at Planned Parenthood South Atlantic in a news release.
Monday’s motion against the speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives is part of a lawsuit filed in 2020 challenging several restrictions on abortion providers, but the motion is specifically focused on seeking temporary approval for APCs to provide abortion services while the lawsuit is underway.
Planned Parenthood claimed that since the Dobbs decision, more patients from neighboring states that have banned abortion have flocked to North Carolina seeking an abortion, causing longer delays for abortion access.
According to the motion, more than one third of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic’s abortion patients between July 1 and September 30 came from out of state, totaling 1,317 people. In the same time period last year, just 322 patients came from out of state for abortions.
In North Carolina, abortion is legal up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.
“Let’s be clear: Abortion is still legal in North Carolina, but a politically motivated abortion restriction has created an insurmountable barrier for too many pregnant people in the state and across the region,” said Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective.
The medication-assisted abortion involves a combination of medications— mifepristone and misoprostol —in pill form within a specified time period. Though APCs are currently allowed to prescribe the medications for a miscarriage, they are prohibited from prescribing them for abortion, known as the “APC ban.”
“This, in turn, has exacerbated the long wait times experienced by North Carolinians seeking abortion—forcing them to remain pregnant against their will for longer periods, potentially pushing them past the gestational age limit for a medication abortion, and more,” Planned Parenthood said in the motion.
In one North Carolina city, Asheville, wait times for medication abortion appointments have increased from 12 days in July, August, and September 2021 to up to 21 days since July 1 this year.
The agencies filing the motion claim that the “APC ban” violates the state’s equal protection clause because it discriminates on the basis of sex, and treats patients who want to terminate their pregnancies differently from those who want to carry their pregnancies to term.
A spokesperson for the North Carolina House of Representatives did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
It remains to be seen whether the judge will approve the motion for temporary injunction and allow APCs to provide medication abortion. A trial is scheduled in the original case for September 2023.
Photo: ericsphotography, Getty Images