Four non-profit medical groups have filed a brief with a federal appeals court in support of a 20-week abortion limit in North Carolina.

The state of North Carolina has "legitimate interests in regulating and limiting the practice of abortion," the brief said.

"These important interests include using the State's voice and regulatory authority to show its profound respect for the 'life of the unborn' and protecting the health of women from 'the outset of [] pregnancy'," it continued.

"North Carolina also has significant interest in regulating a 'brutal and inhumane procedure' to avoid 'coarsen[ing] society to the humanity of not only newborns, but all vulnerable and innocent human life' and in protecting the integrity of the medical profession."

The National Catholic Bioethics Center, the Christian Medical & Dental Associations, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists, and the American College of Pediatricians filed a brief in Bryant v. Woodall on Sept. 3. The case is being considered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

The case concerns a 1973 North Carolina law that limits abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. U.S. District Judge William Osteen ruled in March that the law was unconstitutional.

Although the law banning abortion after 20 weeks has been on the books for decades, it has never been enforced. Osteen ruled that the law, even if not enforced, was unconstitutional and could deter people from engaging in behavior that is legally protected by the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision and various laws.

In their brief, the medical organizations argue that Osteen's ruling erroneously considered a 20-week baby's viability as the only factor in the constitutionality of the North Carolina law.

"[T]he viability line is problematic because medical advances make it a moving target," they said, and because the ruling fails to recognize the state's other legitimate interests in regulating and limiting abortion.

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"Advances in genetic science have undermined one of Roe v. Wade's core assumptions, namely, that a pre-born child is not yet human," Kevin Theriot, vice president of the Center for Life at Alliance Defending Freedom, which filed the brief on behalf of the medical organizations.

"North Carolina's commonsense law protects an unborn baby who can feel pain from the brutality of a dismemberment abortion and protects the child's mother from the physical and psychological complications of a late-term abortion."

The North Carolina law originally included exemptions that permitted an abortion to protect the health of the mother. A 2015 amendment to the legislation clarified this to mean when a "major bodily function" would be at risk if the pregnancy continued.

That change prompted abortion advocacy groups, including Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, to file a 2016 suit against the law.

With the law struck down, abortion remains legal for any reason in North Carolina until a doctor determines that the unborn child can survive outside of the womb.

Denise Burke, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, argued that "abortion carries health risks for the mother, and those risks get more frequent and more severe the later in pregnancy she resorts to abortion."

"Also, thanks to scientific advances like ultrasound, we know that babies have a heartbeat at six weeks, are fully formed at 12 weeks, and can feel pain in the womb at least by 20 weeks," Burke said. "In light of these realities, and the Supreme Court's precedent on the subject, North Carolina's commonsense law limiting abortion after 20 weeks deserves to be upheld."

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If the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision were to be overturned, states would be free to set their own abortion policies. Some states have codified the Roe decision into law in the event it would be overturned, while others have "trigger laws" that would automatically ban abortion entirely if the case were overturned.