Republican leaders in the General Assembly who called on Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein to reinstate North Carolina’s 20-week ban on abortion can expect a response this week, Stein’s office said Monday.
Hours after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the landmark abortion precedents Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey on Friday, freeing states to enact a full range of abortion restrictions, Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore wrote a letter to Stein, asking him to “take all necessary legal action” to get a federal district court’s injunction blocking the 20-week ban lifted.
Berger and Moore asked Stein to respond to their letter by July 1, and said they were ready to “take the necessary steps” to lift the injunction, which a federal judge issued in 2019 after ruling the 20-week ban to be unconstitutional, if they did not hear back from Stein in time.
On Monday, a spokesperson for Stein, Nazneen Ahmed, said the attorney general’s office expected to respond to the legislative leaders this week.
Ahmed also said Stein hasn’t been involved in Bryant vs. Woodall, the case that brought about the injunction blocking the 20-week ban, since he recused himself from the case in June 2019. Instead, she said, the case is being handled by professional staff within Stein’s agency, the state Department of Justice.
At the time, Stein said he was recusing himself because he “strongly” supported the right of women to make their own reproductive health care decisions, and he intended to voice his opposition to measures being enacted by the Trump administration and state governments to restrict access to abortion and contraception.
“In this hostile environment, it is critical for those who support women’s freedoms to speak out,” Stein said. “I intend to do so, and for that reason, I am unwilling to participate in the appeal of the ruling that struck down the current version of the North Carolina abortion statute.”
Asked about Stein recusing himself from the case, Moore told The News & Observer on Monday he wasn’t aware the attorney general had removed himself from the department’s handling of it. He also reiterated that the legislature would be ready to have its own attorneys step in to advocate for the abortion ban to be reinstated if necessary.
“I mean, the General Assembly is totally capable of doing that,” Moore said.
Moore’s chief of staff, Neal Inman, added that Stein “is still the head of the department and you would think that there’s a duty at this point to inform the court of changes in the law.”
Since the Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday, all attention in North Carolina has shifted to the GOP-controlled state legislature.
Berger and Moore both said after the decision was released that they would address the question of further restrictions on abortion (which Moore said will be a “top priority” for his caucus) in January, when lawmakers reconvene. The legislature is currently in session, but is expected to adjourn within a week’s time, after wrapping up work on a budget bill.
Before they return to Raleigh next year, Republicans are hoping to win a legislative supermajority in the November general election, which would enable them to override vetoes of any new abortion bills from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who is in office until 2024.
They currently hold 69 seats in the House, and 28 seats in the Senate, leaving them three seats short in the lower chamber and two seats short in the upper chamber of achieving a supermajority.
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