North Carolina governor vetoes 12-week abortion ban, launching Republican override showdown

North Carolina’s Democratic governor has vetoed legislation that would have banned nearly all abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy

Hannah Schoenbaum,Gary D. Robertson
Saturday 13 May 2023 17:12 BST
Abortion North Carolina
Abortion North Carolina

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

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In front of an exuberant crowd, North Carolina’s Democratic governor vetoed legislation Saturday that would have banned nearly all abortions in his state after 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Hundreds of abortion-rights activists and voters watched on a plaza in the capital of Raleigh as Gov Roy Cooper affixed his veto stamp to the bill. The veto launches a major test for leaders of the GOP-controlled General Assembly to attempt to override Cooper’s veto after they recently gained veto-proof majorities in both chambers. The bill was the Republican response to last year’s US Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v Wade.

"We’re going to have to kick it into an even higher gear when that veto stamp comes down,” Mr Cooper told the crowd. “If just one Republican in either the House or the Senate keeps a campaign promise to protect women’s reproductive health, we can stop this ban.”

Andrea Long, a 42-year-old mother of three from Cary, said she was honored be part of an “electric” crowd on what she called a “historic day for freedom” in North Carolina.

“I couldn’t stop crying tears joy seeing the governor hold up the veto stamp, but I know it’s an uphill battle to keep this momentum going,” Ms Long said.

Mr Cooper, a strong abortion-rights supporter, had until Sunday night to act on the measure that tightens current state law, which bans most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Mr Cooper spent the week on the road talking to North Carolinians about the bill’s lesser-known impacts and urging them to apply pressure upon key Republican lawmakers who hesitated about further restrictions during campaigns for office last year. The legislation passed along party lines in the last week in the House and Senate.

Republicans have pitched the measure as a middle-ground change to state abortion laws developed after months of private negotiations between House and Senate GOP members. It adds exceptions to the 12-week ban, extending the limit through 20 weeks for rape and incest and through 24 weeks for “life-limiting” fetal anomalies.

But Mr Cooper has said repeatedly the details contained in the 47-page bill show that the measure isn’t a reasonable compromise and would instead greatly erode reproductive rights.

He cites new obstacles for women to obtain abortions — such as requiring multiple in-person visits, additional paperwork to prove a patient has given their informed consent to an abortion and increased regulation of clinics providing the procedure.

Mr Cooper and allies have said those changes in practice will shut down clinics that cannot afford major upgrades mandated by new licensing standards and make it nearly impossible for women who live in rural areas or work long hours to access abortion services.

Compared to recent actions by Republican-controlled legislatures elsewhere, the broad prohibition after 12 weeks can be viewed as less onerous to those in other states where the procedure has been banned almost completely. But abortion-rights activists have argued that it’s more restrictive than meets the eye and will have far-reaching consequences. Since Roe was overturned, many patients traveling from more restrictive states have become dependent on North Carolina as a locale for abortions later in pregnancy.

Republicans call the legislation pro-family and pro-child, pointing to at least $160m in spending contained within for maternal health services, foster and adoption care, contraceptive services and paid leave for teachers and state employees after the birth of a child.

Mr Cooper has singled out four GOP legislators — three House members and one senator — whom he said made “campaign promises to protect women’s reproductive health.” Anti-abortion groups accused Cooper of trying to bully them.

One of those House members is Rep Tricia Cotham of Mecklenburg County, who voted for the bill mere weeks after she switched from the Democratic Party to the GOP. The move gave Republicans a veto-proof supermajority if all of their legislators are present and voting.

Ms Cotham has spoken out for abortion rights in the past and even earlier this year co-sponsored a bill to codify abortion protections into state law. Rep Ted Davis of Wilmington — another targeted legislator — was the only Republican absent from last week’s initial House vote. The Senate margin already became veto-proof after GOP gains last November.

Mr Davis said last fall that he supported “what the law is in North Carolina right now,” which was a 20-week limit. Davis has declined to comment on the bill, but House Speaker Tim Moore said recently that Davis is a “yes” vote for an override.

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