What does ‘codify’ mean for North Carolina abortion laws?

Meaghann Bernardy, of Charlotte, N.C., marches with other abortion rights activists along South Davidson Street in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, June 26, 2022.

Meaghann Bernardy, of Charlotte, N.C., marches with other abortion rights activists along South Davidson Street in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, June 26, 2022.

alslitz@charlotteobserver.com


Roe v. Wade

Here’s how the Supreme Court decision affects health care, politics, and more in Charlotte and North Carolina.


In the days following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, abortion advocates are looking to their state lawmakers to codify abortion access for constituents.

Codify is a word you might have heard being thrown around as a nationwide debate was sparked by the landmark court ruling that gave pregnant individuals a constitutional right to choose. But what exactly does it mean?

Codify, in simple terms, means to secure something into systematic code rather than relying on court precedent or court decisions. In the context of Roe v. Wade, codifying would look like federal or state legislatures passing laws to protect access to abortion procedures.

Linda C. McClain, a law professor at Boston University, explained in The Conversation that at the federal level, codifying Roe for every American would take Congress passing a law with the same protections provided by the court ruling from 1973. In that instance, it would be binding for U.S. states and it’s not entirely possible to estimate the possibility of it happening at this moment.

“Perhaps in the wake of the court’s overruling of Roe, calls for bipartisan efforts to ‘codify’ Roe may signal increased willingness to pass federal legislation to protect abortion access,” McClain wrote. “But some Republicans in Congress are already calling for federal legislation to do exactly the opposite.”

On the state level, lawmakers still have the opportunity to codify reproductive rights, including in North Carolina. The Supreme Court decision granted states the right to make their own decisions regarding reproductive rights.

Although abortion is still legal in North Carolina, there are still restrictions in place on how long a pregnant individual has before going through with the procedure and what must be done before that process can begin.

North Carolina Democrats introduced the Reproductive Freedom Act, or House Bill 1119, last month following the leaked Supreme Court draft on Roe v. Wade. The bill would codify Roe into state law while also removing state-sanctioned barriers to abortion access.

Republican leaders in the General Assembly recently called on Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein to reinstate North Carolina’s 20-week ban on abortion following the Supreme Court decision, The News & Observer reported.

In 2019, a federal judge issued an injunction ruling the 20-week ban to be unconstitutional. Since the decision, abortions have been legal up until “viability.” Viability refers to a point in fetal development when a fetus would be able to survive outside the uterus.

While no new abortion bills in North Carolina have been filed, Republicans have enough votes to pass new restrictions, but not enough to override vetoes from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper if legislation were presented.

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Evan Santiago is a reporter for the Charlotte Observer writing for the publication’s Service Journalism Desk. He hails from New York City and is currently based in the Queen City where he works to help local readers navigate the challenges that come with daily life in the modern world.

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