north carolina gop rushes new abortion ban after democrat suddenly switched parties scaled

North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is likely to veto the ban if it gets to this desk, but the legislature has a Republican veto-proof majority.
via Associated Press

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 statehouse on Wednesday unveiled a 12-week abortion ban. Anti-choice advocates 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restrict abortion in the Southern state since it became a safe haven for care after federal abortion protections were repealed last year, and the proposed abortion ban now has a very real chance of becoming a law.

The House is expected to vote on the bill Wednesday afternoon, and the Senate will likely vote Thursday. The ban could land on Gov. Roy Cooper’s (D) desk as early as tomorrow. Republicans say they have the votes to pass the restriction, but because all of the negotiations are happening behind closed doors, it’s unclear how many or which lawmakers will actually vote to pass the 12-week ban.

Currently, abortion is available through 20 weeks of pregnancy in North Carolina. Since federal abortion protections were repealed last year, around a dozen states in the South and Midwest have enacted near-total bans on abortion, forcing North Carolina to receive an influx in patients traveling out of state for care. The Tar Heel State has seen a 37% increase in abortions since Roe fell ― the biggest percentage increase in 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 another 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. The North Carolina GOP believe[s] in hoarding their own power by any means necessary, including by putting lives in danger.”

Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue (left) speaks while House Minority Leader Robert Reives listens at a news conference at the Legislative Building in Raleigh, on Feb. 7, 2022.

Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue (left) speaks while House Minority Leader Robert Reives listens at a news conference at the Legislative Building in Raleigh, on Feb. 7, 2022.
via Associated Press

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.

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 are sometimes by anti-choice lawmakers to make an extreme bill look more reasonable.

Cooper has vetoed several anti-abortion laws that the Republican majority in the state legislature has sent his way, and is widely expected to veto this ban as well.

“This proposal erodes even further the freedom of women and their doctors to make deeply personal health care decisions,” Cooper tweeted on Tuesday evening. “I along with most North Carolinians are alarmed by the overreach of Republican politicians into people’s personal lives and I strongly oppose it.”

State Rep. Tricia Cotham’s sudden party switch made the legislation possible. Cotham had been an advocate for abortion rights throughout her tenure in the legislature and earlier this year cosponsored a bill to codify abortion protections alongside her then-fellow Democratic colleagues. Since her party switch, Cotham says she’s open to passing abortion restrictions.

Republican lawmakers unveiled the plan for a 12-week ban during a Tuesday evening surprise press conference, headed by several female Republicans. Several Republicans touted the proposal as “mainstream” and an approach that is “pro-woman.”

“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 anti-choice tactics are not new for the anti-abortion movement in North Carolina and across the country, said Susanna Birdsong, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic VP of Compliance and General Counsel.

“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. It’s not unprecedented for them to do things like this,” Birdsong said, pointing to a 2013 motorcycle safety bill that the North Carolina legislature quietly gutted and turned into an anti-abortion bill.

Abortion bans like the one North Carolina lawmakers are now debating have had terrifying consequences in other states. Pregnant folks who live in states with near-total bans or restrictions on abortion have had to travel out of state to get care. Women with less resources and money have been forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term ― an expensive and dangerous feat 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, which makes for a really dangerous bill.”

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