North Carolina's 12-week abortion ban law takes effect in July. What to know.

The new law bans most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy and expands punishments for sex offenders and domestic violence.

Paul Woolverton
The Fayetteville Observer
  • Abortion will be banned after 12 weeks of pregnancy except in limited circumstances. The limit used to be 20 weeks.
  • Exceptions include rape, incest, a life-limiting fetal anomaly, and a medical emergency that threatens the mother’s life.
  • The law also increases punishments for domestic violence, assaults on pregnant women and sex offenders.

With the Republican override of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of North Carolina’s new abortion law on Tuesday, abortion access in North Carolina was significantly reduced for the first time in 50 years.

Abortions weren’t made completely illegal, but they will be harder to get. And in most cases, abortion will not be legal past the 12th week of pregnancy. Previously, abortion had been legal through the 20th week.

Abortion providers face new regulations and licensing requirements. Critics say the new regulations could stop some clinics from providing abortions.

Women seeking abortions also face new regulations before they can receive the care.

The new abortion laws take effect July 1.

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In addition to addressing abortion, the bill created or changed laws on other topics. These include:

  • New or increased criminal penalties for domestic violence, sex offenders and people who assault pregnant women.
  • Increased funding for childcare, contraceptives, pregnancy care, maternity care, foster care and adoption services.
  • Expansion of the type of care that certified nurse midwives can provide without a doctor’s supervision.
  • Paid leave for state employees when their children are born or adopted.

Here are more details on the new abortion law:

Protesters on both sides of the abortion issue hold signs on Tuesday evening at the N.C. General Assembly in Raleigh as state House members debated a new abortion law. The legislature voted to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's veto and enact the new law. It bans nearly all abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy. The limit had been 20 weeks.

NC new abortion restrictions: Limitations, changes from previous 20-week limit

The law reduces the amount of time that most women have before getting an abortion from the 20th week of pregnancy to the 12th week.

According to data from the state Department of Health and Human Services, of 27,305 North Carolina abortions in 2021, almost 71% were performed by the end of the eighth week and nearly 90% were performed by the end of the 12th week.

About 6.6% of abortions were from the 13th to 20th weeks. Fewer than 0.3% were later than 20 weeks (the old law allowed abortions after 20 weeks if the pregnancy threatened the mother’s life). The gestation time of about 3.3% of the pregnancies was unknown.

The new law has several exceptions to the 12-week limit:

  • In a medical emergency in which the pregnancy threatens the woman’s life or threatens to cause irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.
  • Abortion is legal through the 20th week if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.
  • It is legal through the 24th week if the fetus has a life-limiting anomaly.

Other abortion regulations for women, doctors, clinics in North Carolina

Some other abortion restrictions and rules:

  • Doctors may prescribe or provide abortion-inducing medicines only if the pregnancy is in its first 10 weeks of gestation. After 10 weeks, the patient would have to get a surgical abortion.
  • At least 72 hours prior to the abortion, an ultrasound of the fetus is to be conducted. The ultrasound image is to be presented to the woman so she can either see it in real-time or hear the fetal heartbeat. (The 72-hour restrictions do not apply if there is a medical emergency.)
  • Abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy may be conducted only at a hospital.

Additions within the ban: Domestic violence, sex offenders, assault of pregnant women

The bill with the new abortion restrictions has provisions that had nothing to do with abortion.

It creates a new crime of misdemeanor domestic violence. Prior to this, people who engage in domestic violence have been charged with assault. This new law makes violence in the context of a domestic relationship its own crime.

The law also creates a new misdemeanor crime of assaulting a pregnant woman. Prior to this, it was a crime to assault anyone. The new law singles out assault on a pregnant woman as its own crime.

The new domestic violence and assault laws take effect Dec. 1.

Starting Oct. 1, more sex offenders will be subject to satellite-based monitoring, and for longer periods of time.

Previously, North Carolina focused monitoring on people who sexually assaulted children. The new law expands the list of crimes, including various charges of sexual assault or rape, patronizing a prostitute with a severe disability, incest, human trafficking and other violations.

Monitoring had been capped at 10 years. Now offenders face up to 50 years of monitoring, and some could get it for life.

Senior North Carolina reporter Paul Woolverton can be reached at 910-261-4710 and