New North Carolina abortion limits on legislative fast track
May 3, 2023, 12:39 PM | Updated: 4:58 pm
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Lawmakers began voting Wednesday on a Republican package of abortion restrictions that would tighten North Carolina’s ban on the procedure from after 20 weeks to 12 weeks while creating new exceptions but also more requirements for pregnant women and physicians.
The legislation, which emerged the previous day after months of private negotiations among House and Senate GOP members, was on a fast track to reach the desk of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, likely this week.
The full House was expected to vote on the measure later Wednesday after a committee recommended the measure, and a Senate vote was expected Thursday.
More than 200 people, including Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein and members of Congress, rallied in opposition to the bill near the Legislative Building.
Cooper, a strong abortion-rights supporter, vowed to fight the measure.
“I will veto this extreme ban and need everyone’s help to hold it,” Cooper said in a tweet. But Republicans now hold veto-proof majorities in both General Assembly chambers after a House Democrat switched to the Republican Party last month. A succesful override would likely depend on all or nearly all GOP members supporting the bill.
State law currently bans almost all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The bill being considered would reduce that to 12 weeks, or roughly at the first trimester. It also places limits on new exceptions, capping abortions at 20 weeks in cases of rape or incest and 24 weeks for “life-limiting” fetal anomalies, including certain physical or genetic disorders that can be diagnosed prenatally. An existing exception for when the life of the pregnant woman is in danger would remain.
The changes stem from the desire of state Republicans to alter abortion rules after last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. But they aren’t as restrictive as changes made since then by GOP-controlled legislatures in other Southern states like West Virginia.
Some conservatives had wanted a ban on abortions once an ultrasound first detects fetal cardiac activity, typically about six weeks after fertilization. But that’s not where Republican lawmakers ended up.
“We talked about everything — what went too far, what didn’t go far enough — and where we could finally come to a consensus was 12 weeks,” said GOP Rep. Sarah Stevens of Surry County, one of the negotiators of the package.
Republicans were cautious about going too far in a closely divided state ahead of the 2024 elections after losing some key races in suburban areas last year where abortion was a big issue, Catawba College political science professor Michael Bitzer said.
“Certainly the tea leaves that came out of 2022’s election showed that if they went too restrictive, there would be a political and electoral backlash,” Bitzer said.
Courtney Geels, grassroots director for the socially conservative group North Carolina Values Coalition, said the bill is “a significant compromise in the pro-life community, but it is an excellent step in the right direction.”
Republican leaders have also proposed spending in the bill at least $160 million for programs to improve child care access and maternal health care, encourage families to take in foster children and provide contraceptives to low-income or uninsured patients.
“This is mainstream, common-sense legislation,” Sen. Joyce Krawiec, a Forsyth County Republican and another negotiator, said. “This bill has opportunities that will enable women to be empowered, to make their own decisions and not feel pressured by others to make a decision that they would not make otherwise.”
The 46-page measure contains additional abortion prohibitions that Cooper vetoed successfully in past years when Democrats held more legislative seats. Some would bar women from getting abortions on the basis of Another would require doctors and nurses to protect and care for children born alive during a failed late-term abortion.
It also creates new licensing requirements for abortion clinics that must be at least as restrictive as the rules that ambulatory surgical centers must follow. Planned Parenthood South Atlantic says none of its clinics in the state currently meet those standards.
“Extreme anti-abortion politicians have created a monster by pushing new restrictions that aim to shut down abortion clinics,” Planned Parenthood spokesperson Jillian Riley told lawmakers.
North Carolina law currently requires a 72-hour waiting period for an abortion but allows for the clock to start ticking with a phone call between a pregnant woman and a physician or quailfied professional. The bill would eliminate that remote contact option and require a woman to visit a clinic or hospital in person, as well as a follow-up visit for a medically induced abortion.
The extra visits result in an unnecessary burden, critics say, especially for women who find it hard to take off work.
“This legislation completely ignores the medical evidence. Make no mistake — this bill is not about health or safety,” Dr. Amy Bryant, an OB-GYN, said at Wednesday’s rally. “This bill is about making it as difficult as possible to obtain an abortion, even in the first trimester.”
At least 88% of abortions in North Carolina in 2020 occurred at or before 12 weeks of gestation, according to state Department of Health and Human Services data.
The legislative package was offered through a parliamentary procedure that doesn’t allow lawmakers to offer amendments. That angered Democrats who called the process anti-democratic.