Federal Judge Requests New Briefs in Lawsuit Challenging North Carolina’s Abortion Pill Restrictions

GREENSBORO, N.C. – The federal judge overseeing a lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s restrictions on abortion pills has requested new briefs from the parties involved by Feb. 5. This development suggests that the judge may issue a final decision without the need for a trial.

US Chief District Judge Catherine Eagles, presiding over the case Bryant v. Stein, made this request during a hearing in Greensboro. The hearing was initially scheduled to consider the motion filed by legislative leaders to dismiss the lawsuit. However, all parties involved agreed to convert the motion into a cross motion for summary judgment, indicating that both the plaintiffs and legislative leaders are hoping for a favorable ruling from Eagles without going through a trial.

This hearing marks the first activity in the Bryant v. Stein lawsuit since Eagles took over the case on Dec. 21. Previously, the case had been assigned to District Judge William Osteen. Eagles is also presiding over a separate lawsuit contesting elements of North Carolina’s 2023 abortion law. In September, she granted an injunction blocking the implementation of two provisions in that law. A trial for the separate lawsuit could potentially take place as early as May 6.

The lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s abortion pill restrictions was filed by Dr. Amy Bryant, a physician at UNC Health. State legislative leaders sought to block the lawsuit in August by filing a motion arguing that the federal court should dismiss the case. They invoked the “major questions doctrine,” which argues that issues of major political or economic significance should not be delegated to administrative agencies by Congress.

In response, Attorney General Josh Stein, the lead named defendant in the lawsuit, filed an answer opposing the motion to dismiss. Stein’s lawyers argued that under principles of preemption, states cannot enact laws that conflict with federal law and frustrate its objectives. They stated that Congress enacted the Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS) provisions of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to regulate drugs like the abortion pill in a way that balances risks and ensures patient access to healthcare.

Legislative leaders, represented by attorneys for Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, countered that North Carolina has the authority to enact laws that protect unborn life, promote maternal health, and regulate the medical profession. They claimed that the FDA’s approval of chemical abortion drugs did not grant it preemptive power over state laws on abortion, particularly in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

As the case progresses, Bryant’s suit against state law will involve several defendants, including Stein, the state Health and Human Services Secretary, the Orange-Chatham district attorney, and members of the state Medical Board.

The outcome of this lawsuit could have significant implications for the future of abortion pill regulations in North Carolina. As the parties submit their new briefs, the judge will carefully consider the arguments before making a final decision on the matter.