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North Carolina Republicans approve 12-week abortion ban as sweeping restrictions spread across US South

More than a dozen states, mostly across the South, have outlawed or severely restricted abortion access

Alex Woodward
Wednesday 17 May 2023 16:31 BST
North Carolina GOP Overrides Veto of 12-Week Abortion Limit, Allowing It to Become Law

Republican lawmakers in North Carolina voted to override the governor’s veto of a bill that outlaws abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy, restricting abortion access in a state that has been a haven for abortion care in the year after the US Supreme Court’s decision to reverse Roe v Wade.

In neighbouring South Carolina, lawmakers have continued debate before voting on a more-restrictive measure that would ban nearly all abortions after roughly six weeks of pregnancy, before many people know they are pregnant, adding to a streak of abortion restrictions across the US South.

More than a dozen states, mostly in the South, have outlawed most abortions or severely restricted access within the year after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which revoked a constitutional right to abortion care that was affirmed for nearly half a century.

Abortion rights restrictions in North Carolina and a six-week ban in South Carolina would dramatically change the map for abortion access in the US, where abortions are banned in most cases from Texas to West Virginia and along the Gulf Coast.

“In the more than a dozen states with bans, women have been turned away from emergency rooms, left with no choice but to travel hundreds of miles for the care they need, and faced complications that put their lives and health at risk. Like those laws, the North Carolina ban will harm patients and threaten doctors for providing essential care,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement on 17 May.

She called the North Carolina measure a “dangerous bill that is out of touch with the majority of North Carolinians and will make it even more difficult for women to get the reproductive health care they need.”

“We’ve already seen the devastating impacts that state abortion bans have had on the health and lives of Americans living under these draconian laws,” she added.


Health workers joined protesters at the North Carolina Capitol in Raleigh on 17 May as lawmakers in the Republican-controlled state legislature convened to override a veto from Democratic Governor Roy Cooper, who has spent the last several days campaigning for GOP lawmakers to break from the party and drop the challenge to his veto.

In a video posted online, the governor named four Republican lawmakers who he said made campaign promises to protect access to abortion.

“They say this is a reasonable 12-week ban. It’s not,” he said in the video. “The fine print requirements and restrictions will shut down clinics and make abortion completely unavailable to many women at any time, causing desperation and death.”

Much of the coverage surrounding the North Carolina legislation has centred around a now-Republican lawmaker who previously campaigned against abortion restrictions when she was a Democrat, up until April.

State Rep Tricia Cotham joined the Republican Party last month after campaigning for her seat as a Democratic candidate and earning the endorsement of EMILY’s List, an influential abortion rights organisation. Her party switch delivered Republicans a veto-proof majority in the House.


Ms Cotham has spent years campaigning against abortion restrictions, with powerful testimony about abortion rights and her own medically necessary abortion experience, saying in one widely shared 2015 speech that “my womb and my uterus is not up for your political grab.”

In a statement following the vote, the governor said that “North Carolinians now understand that Republicans are unified in their assault on women’s reproductive freedom, and we are energized to fight back on this and other critical issues facing our state.”

Lawmakers in the House and Senate voted on party lines to reverse the governor’s veto.

The bill includes exceptions for pregnancies from rape or incest or if there is a “life-limiting anomaly” in the fetus. It also will require in-person physician visits at least 72 hours before a procedural abortion, and doctors must also make real-time views of fetuses available and allow patients to listen to embryonic cardiac activity.

North Carolina lawmakers approved the anti-abortion law while lawmakers in Nebraska debated a measure that coupled a 10-week abortion ban with a bill targeting gender-affirming care for trans youth, a proposal that inspired a nearly three-month-long filibuster in an effort to block it. Republican lawmakers ultimately broke through the filibuster on Tuesday night and voted in favour of the combined bill, which will head to a final round of votes before it heads to the desk of Republican Governor Jim Pillen, who intends to sign it into law.

Meanwhile, in Louisiana, lawmakers recently refused to add rape and incest exceptions to its anti-abortion law, one of the most restrictive in the country. State lawmakers also overwhelmingly rejected attempts to clarify medical exceptions in the law, including a measure that would specifically allow providers to remove an ectopic or molar pregnancy, which cannot result in a successful birth.

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