North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) is likely to veto the ban if it gets to his desk, but the state legislature has a Republican veto-proof majority.
Only weeks after a North Carolina Democrat suddenly changed parties, giving the GOP a veto-proof majority against Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, Republicans in the state legislature on Wednesday unveiled a 12-week abortion ban.
Opponents of abortion rights have continually tried to restrict abortion in the Southern state since it became a safe haven for care after federal abortion protections were repealed last year. The proposed abortion ban now has a very real chance of becoming law.
The ban passed through the state House and Senate in less than 24 hours, with a Republican supermajority vote that will likely allow the GOP to override Cooper if he vetoes it.
The House voted to pass the the abortion ban on Wednesday afternoon, 71-46. Two lawmakers were absent, including one Republican who is likely to vote for the ban, which would give the House GOP a supermajority vote. State Rep. Tricia Cotham, who switched parties last month and handed Republicans their veto-proof supermajority, voted to pass the 12-week abortion ban. The Senate passed the ban on Thursday evening, final vote 29-20.
Protesters in the galley started chanting, “Abortion rights now!” and “Shame!” after the Senate vote finished.
The ban now goes to Cooper, who told CNN on Thursday that he will veto it despite the possibility that Republicans will respond by overriding his powers.
“This is the kind of thing that happens when you let right-wing politicians into the exam room with women and their doctors,” Cooper told CNN, tweeting later that the legislature only needs one Republican in either the House or Senate to sustain the governor’s veto power.
He named the four Republicans who promised to protect reproductive rights, adding, “There’s still time for them to keep their promises.”
We only need one Republican in either the House or Senate to help sustain the veto of this dangerous abortion ban. Ted Davis, Michael Lee, John Bradford and Tricia Cotham promised to protect women’s reproductive freedom. There’s still time for them to keep their promises. - RC
— Governor Roy Cooper (@NC_Governor) May 5, 2023
Currently, abortion is available through 20 weeks of pregnancy in North Carolina. Since federal abortion protections were repealed last year, about a dozen states in the South and the Midwest have enacted near-total bans on abortion, forcing North Carolina to receive an influx of patients traveling out of state for care. The Tar Heel State has seen a 37% increase in abortions since Roe v. Wade fell ― the highest-percentage increase of any state.
Republicans behind the bill were underhanded yet creative in their pursuit to introduce the abortion ban. Instead of unveiling a whole new bill ― the traditional way to bring any piece of legislation to the floor ― Republicans quietly tucked the 46-page abortion restriction into an unrelated piece of legislation. Lawmakers added it as a conference committee report, allowing Republicans to evade the traditional committee process and head straight to a vote.
“The bill that has been developed is a commonsense, reasonable approach to restricting second- and third-trimester abortions,” state Republican Senate Leader Phil Berger said at a Tuesday evening press conference.
Democrats were furious, however.
“Republican leadership has once again schemed behind closed doors and silenced the voices of both members of the public and members of the state legislature in order to force a harmful abortion ban down our throats,” state Democratic leaders Sen. Dan Blue and Rep. Robert Reives said in a press release.
“North Carolinians believe in freedom, including the freedom to decide if and when to start a family,” Blue and Reives said. “The North Carolina GOP believe in hoarding their own power by any means necessary, including by putting lives in danger.”
North Carolina state Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue (left) speaks while House Minority Leader Robert Reives listens at a news conference at the Legislative Building in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Feb. 7, 2022.
The legislation seeks to ban abortion after 12 weeks, with exceptions for rape and incest through 20 weeks of pregnancy and an exception for lethal fetal abnormalities through 24 weeks. The bill also includes an exception for the life of the pregnant person, and clarifies that the removal of an ectopic pregnancy is not defined as an elective abortion.
Other restrictions include a two in-person trips to the clinic, a 72-hour waiting period, an in-person dispensing requirement for abortion pills where a physician needs to be present and a limit providing medication abortion after 10 weeks.
“Extreme anti-abortion politicians have passed a sweeping, monster abortion ban in 48 hours without any regard to the democratic process or our fundamental human rights, and we are outraged,” Jenny Black, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said in a statement. “The little debate that we’ve had on this bill has made clear that lawmakers don’t even know what’s in their own legislation. Even so, they rammed through this omnibus ban with complete disregard for the countless people it will harm.”
The bill requires that any abortion performed after the 12-week point, under the exceptions, needs to be done in a hospital. It’s worth noting that abortion ban exceptions often don’t work in practice, and sometimes represent a strategy by anti-choice lawmakers to make an extreme bill look more reasonable.
“This proposal erodes even further the freedom of women and their doctors to make deeply personal health care decisions,” Cooper tweeted Tuesday evening after Republicans unveiled the abortion ban. “I along with most North Carolinians are alarmed by the overreach of Republican politicians into people’s personal lives and I strongly oppose it.”
Cotham’s sudden party switch from Democrat to Republican made the legislation possible. Cotham had been an advocate for abortion rights throughout her tenure in the legislature, and earlier this year she co-sponsored a bill to codify abortion protections alongside what were then her fellow Democrats.
Republican lawmakers unveiled the plan for a 12-week ban during a Tuesday evening surprise press conference, headed by several Republican women. A number of Republicans touted the proposal as “mainstream” and called it a “pro-woman” approach.
“This bill gets dropped in one night in a conference report ... I just don’t believe this is how democracy should work,” Reives said during debate on the bill on Wednesday morning.
This is a tactic that really subverts the democratic process.Susanna Birdsong, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic
These deceptive tactics are not new for the anti-abortion movement in North Carolina and across the country, said Susanna Birdsong, vice president of compliance and general counsel at Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.
“In North Carolina, they’ve long employed tactics to limit public debate and input on bills like this because they understand that what they will be facing is public outrage and they want to limit that to the extent possible,” Birdsong said, pointing to a 2013 motorcycle safety bill that the North Carolina legislature quietly gutted and turned into an anti-abortion bill. “It’s not unprecedented for them to do things like this.”
Abortion bans like the one now under consideration in North Carolina have had terrifying consequences in other states. Pregnant people who live in states with near-total bans or restrictions on abortion have had to travel out of state to get care. Women with fewer resources and less money have been forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term ― an expensive and dangerous prospect in the U.S.
Extreme abortion restrictions have created maternity care deserts in rural areas of the country, since some physicians have left their home states for states that support abortion rights, where the threat of criminalization does not prohibit them from offering the standard of care. States that have enacted abortion bans in the last year experienced a 10.5% decrease in OB-GYN resident applications, according to new data from the Association of American Medical Colleges.
“We should be guiding these decisions, not politicians,” Dr. Jenna Beckham, an OB-GYN from North Carolina, said during public debate on the bill on Wednesday.
Similar abortion restrictions recently failed to pass in South Carolina and Nebraska.
“This is a tactic that really subverts the democratic process,” Birdsong said. “The whole point of the legislative process is supposed to be for bills to be vetted and for people to have multiple opportunities to weigh in, to look at the language, to think about actual impact.”
“Any of those points of feedback are missing from this process,” she said, “which makes for a really dangerous bill.”