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Judge grants preliminary injunction blocking two elements of NC’s new abortion law

A federal judge blocked two provisions of North Carolina’s controversial new abortion law on Saturday.

The main thrust of the law went into effect on July 1. That includes a ban on most abortions after 12 weeks of gestation and several other parts of the law, including some that were challenged by Planned Parenthood and a Triangle OB-GYN for being contradictory and confusing, and were later revised by GOP lawmakers with last-minute clarifications.

But U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles sided with Planned Parenthood on one part of the law that she said was “unconstitutionally vague,” that said physicians prescribing medication abortions had to document the existence of a pregnancy at the early stages of gestation.

On Saturday, Eagles granted a preliminary injunction blocking the provision in question, which requires physicians to document the “intrauterine location of a pregnancy” before prescribing medication to end the pregnancy.

In a 34-page order, Eagles wrote that the restriction on medication abortions didn’t provide physicians with “a clear standard,” was “open to differing interpretations” and didn’t provide “reasonable notice of what is prohibited,” and could subject physicians to “arbitrary accusations that they have violated the provision.”

The injunction also blocks a second provision, which was slated to go into effect on Oct. 1, that requires anyone seeking an abortion after 12 weeks, under one of the law’s exceptions carved out for rape and incest, fetal abnormalities, or the life of the mother, to have the procedure in a hospital.

In a statement, Dr. Beverly Gray, the Duke OB-GYN who joined Planned Parenthood in challenging the law, applauded the court for blocking “a few of the onerous barriers to essential reproductive health care that have no basis in medicine.”

“Despite today’s decision, North Carolina’s 12-week abortion ban has created unnecessary hurdles to obtain care, with providers across the state scrambling to support pregnant women who now face the nightmare of government-imposed forced pregnancy,” Gray said.

Jenny Black, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said the organization “remains committed to helping every patient navigate the unjust and inhumane confines of this law, and we encourage anyone in need of abortion care to contact us as soon as possible.”

Attorney General Josh Stein, who said earlier this year that his office wouldn’t defend parts of the new abortion law that he believed were unconstitutional, said he was encouraged by the court’s decision to block two provisions in the law that he called “restrictions on women’s reproductive freedom.”

“The law is not based in medical reality, and it was sloppily written,” Stein said in a statement. “Women, not politicians, should be making these decisions. And I will never stop fighting for women’s freedom.”

After Stein said his office wouldn’t defend parts of the law, GOP legislative leaders asked to join the case as intervenor-defendants, to defend the law in court.

The News & Observer has reached out to the offices of Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore requesting comment on Saturday’s ruling.