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This story originally published online at NC Newsline.

Duke University doctors said the 12-week abortion ban North Carolina Republicans approved this week will make abortions harder to get but won’t make people safer. 

“This is just an ideological bill—the abortion part—about limiting access,” said Dr. Jonas Swartz, a Duke OB/GYN said this week. 

Swartz, Dr. Beverly Gray, and Jolynn Dellinger, senior lecturing fellow at the Duke law school, answered questions about the ban for reporters Thursday as the state Senate was debating the bill it would pass along party lines. Senate Bill 20 is now in the hands of Gov. Roy Cooper, who has vowed to veto it. Republicans have enough votes to cancel his veto if they all stick together. 

 Dr. Jonas Swartz (L) and Dr. Beverly Gray (R)

The bill will require more in-person visits to doctors, and greatly increases the required paperwork. 

Current law requires a 72-hour waiting period and state-mandated counseling. That counseling can be done by phone. Under the bill, only in-person counseling would be allowed.

Patients would be required to “take off work for an unnecessary visit for state-mandated counseling,” Swartz said. “We do it every time, and it has been helpful zero times. We provide informed counseling and get informed consent from our patients as a component of medical care,” he said. Forcing the counseling to be in-person simply creates administrative hurdles and makes it more difficult for people to get abortion care, he said. 

The bill allows abortions up to 20 weeks in cases of rape or incest, up to 24 weeks for life-limiting fetal anomalies, and at any time in life-threatening medical emergencies. 

It’s not clear what the legislation means by “life-limiting,” said Gray, an OB/GYN. “There are many flaws in this legislation, including the lack of clarity and how it will be interpreted. It creates chaos for providers.”

Abortion pills must be administered with a doctor present. By-mail option would be illegal.

About 60 percent of people in North Carolina who had abortions in 2020 used abortion pills, according to the CDC. The FDA allows use of abortion pills through 10 weeks gestation.

 Photo: Getty Images

People who use abortion pills would have to make three trips to the doctor, once for counseling, once to have doctors watch them take the first pill, and again after for a follow-up visit. The FDA does not require any of these in-person visits. 

The bill makes it illegal to give someone abortion pills knowing they will be taken outside the presence of a doctor. It would also be illegal to mail abortion pills directly to pregnant women, advertise how to get them, or maintain a website with information on how to obtain the pills. 

It’s unclear who could be prosecuted for providing abortion pills, Dellinger said, leaving open the question whether a woman getting pills for a sister or a mother for a daughter would be breaking the law. 

It’s easy to find websites with information on obtaining abortion pills. 

The bill “raises some significant First Amendment issues,” Dellinger said. The prohibition on advertising and websites may not be enforceable. “There are entities doing that very thing as we speak.”

The NC Medical Society opposed the bill, saying it interferes with the doctor-patient relationship and is administratively burdensome.

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