North Carolina's Democratic attorney general declined Thursday to meet Republican legislative leaders' demand that he ask a federal court to lift an injunction on a state law banning nearly all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The Republican leaders had asked Attorney General Josh Stein, the state's top lawyer, to return to court to reinstate the restriction - which has been unenforceable since 2019 - after the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning nationwide abortion protections removed the legal underpinning for the injunction.
"The Department of Justice will not take action that would restrict women's ability to make their own reproductive health care decisions," Stein said. "Protecting that ability is more important than ever, as states across the nation are banning abortions in all instances, including rape and incest."
A 2019 federal court ruling, affirmed last year by the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, barred the execution of the 20-week ban based on precedents set in Roe v. Wade and an associated 1992 ruling, both struck down June 24. The ruling extended the right to an abortion in North Carolina until fetal viability, which typically falls between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy.
Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, on the day of the Supreme Court ruling, warned Stein that his inaction would lead them to take legal action of their own to reinstate the ban, which was part of a 1973 state law.
"No one should be surprised that Josh Stein is in the abortion-on-demand camp," Berger said Thursday. "However, he swore an oath to uphold and enforce North Carolina law, and this is the latest example of his refusal to do his job."
Though Republicans hold majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly, lawmakers did not pass any additional abortion restrictions during the legislative session that ended July 1. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is a strong abortion-rights supporter whom Moore said would likely veto abortion legislation, but his veto power could soon be nullified if Republicans win a few additional seats in November.