June 16 (UPI) -- A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that North Carolina's law banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy is unconstitutional.
The state implemented the law in 1973, but faced a lawsuit after the General Assembly attempted to narrow the medical exemptions the statute allows in 2015. The legislature also sought to lengthen the waiting period before a woman could have an abortion.
"The amendments impose additional regulations on abortion providers by restricting who may perform abortions and what information providers must report to North Carolina; the amendments reduce the availability of abortion to women facing medical emergencies; and the amendments extend the mandated waiting period women must observe before obtaining an abortion, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in its ruling.
The state, in its argument against the lawsuit, said there wasn't a credible threat for abortion providers because none had been prosecuted under the law, which has been on the books for nearly five decades.
The appeals panel said it can't assume the abortion ban is "largely symbolic" and the General Assembly's recent changes to the law show it has "a renewed interest in regulating abortion."
The Center for Reproductive Rights praised the ruling, saying the North Carolina law infringed on "patients' fundamental rights."
"This ruling is a victory for all North Carolinians in line with decades of Supreme Court precedent," said Genevieve Scott, senior staff attorney at the organization. "Forcing someone to continue a pregnancy against their will is a violation of their basic humanity, their rights, and their freedom."