The law prohibits most abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, with those in favour of the law saying it should be left intact as prosecutors have not tried to indict doctors who violate it.
“It is difficult to explain why the (North Carolina) legislature would have altered the text of the 20-week ban if it did not expect for those words to ever be given effect,” Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote in the court’s opinion.
“As a nation we remain deeply embroiled in debate over the legal status of abortion. While this conversation rages around us, this court cannot say that the threat of prosecution to abortion providers who violate the law is not credible.”
The lawsuit was brought after the Republican-dominated legislature narrowed the terms for medical emergencies under which a woman would be exempt from the 20-week limit in 2015.
A US District Court judge in 2019 blocked the law’s enforcement in situations where the foetus would be considered not viable, a decision that has now been upheld.
The case comes amid tense conflict over abortion in many states. Republican-led state legislatures, such as in Texas, have recently proposed or passed measures that create obstacles to abortion.
The rulings in favour of such limitations has stoked fear that such a landscape could pave the way for the overturning of Roe v Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision protecting women’s right to abortion.
Last month it was announced that the US Supreme Court will hear a case involving a Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks whether “all pre-viability prohibitions on abortion are unconstitutional”.
Genevieve Scott, a lawyer with the Center for Reproductive Rights, said the decision in North Carolina is a “victory for all North Carolinians in line with decades of Supreme Court precedent”.
She added: “Forcing someone to continue a pregnancy against their will is a violation of their basic humanity, their rights, and their freedom.”
Nancy Northup, who leads the Center for Reproductive Rights, told The Washington Post that the state is a “haven where patients can access abortion even as politicians throughout the south pass dozens of restrictions attacking fundamental rights”.
Reporting by the Associated Press
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