New abortion restrictions will go into effect in North Carolina after the General Assembly overrode Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto Tuesday night, May 16. A final vote in the House just before 8:45 p.m. completed the override effort, which began earlier in the day in the Senate. Both chambers split along party lines, with a 72-48 House vote following a 30-20 vote in the Senate. The bill will repeal current law that bans most abortions after 20 weeks, and will instead put in place a 12-week ban that includes exceptions up to 20 weeks for rape and incest, up to 24 weeks for “life-limiting” fetal anomalies, and no limit if a physician determines that the life of the mother is in danger due to a medical emergency. Abortion rights groups have warned the new regulations will have negative ramifications for women and their doctors. Supporters of the bill have said it represents a reasonable set of new restrictions that are favored by a majority of North Carolinians, although nonpartisan polling has shown more voters in the state support abortion rights than oppose them.
Debate in the House began shortly after 7 p.m. and lasted around an hour and a half. Abortion rights supporters erupted into sustained chants of “shame, shame, shame” as soon as the vote occurred, and House Speaker Tim Moore confirmed that the veto had been defeated, and were cleared out of the gallery.
“For the last two weeks, Republican sponsors of this abortion ban have strenuously argued that it is much less restrictive than we warned, so we will now do everything in our power to make sure that’s true,” Cooper said in a statement. Still, the Democratic governor accused a handful of Republican lawmakers who have been supportive of abortion rights of breaking their promises.
Robinson, Stein, White House all react
The successful override, the second of a veto by Cooper in nearly five years, is a victory for Republicans, who vowed after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year to enact stronger restrictions on abortions. The law will also further limit abortion access in a state where abortion providers have seen an influx of out-of-state patients in light of surrounding states in the South enacting stricter laws. Both frontrunners in the race for governor, Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson and Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein, issued statements backing their parties’ positions.
Robinson praised the bill for promoting a “culture of life” while providing new funding for child care, foster care and parental leave. “I am glad to see Republicans in the NC House and Senate stand strong and override the Governor’s veto,” Robinson said in a statement. “While North Carolina Democrats have continued to lie about the ‘Care for Women, Children, and Families Act,’ Republicans have taken a stand to create a culture of life in North Carolina.” Stein, who rallied supporters on Saturday along with Cooper and abortion rights advocates before Cooper vetoed the bill, said Democrats would “keep fighting at every turn” despite the defeat. “This bill is about controlling women and taking away their freedoms,” he said. “And they are not done yet. They will keep coming until they completely ban abortion in every instance. We can’t let them.”
The Biden administration also weighed in, with White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre calling the new law “a dangerous bill that is out of touch with the majority of North Carolinians.” “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,” Jean-Pierre said in a statement. “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.”
Both chambers vote along party lines
Republicans control supermajorities in both chambers, but only by the exact number of votes they needed to successfully override a veto from the Democratic governor. GOP leaders maintained throughout the process that they had the votes to defeat Cooper’s veto, while Democrats were hopeful that the bill could be defeated if even a single Republican broke ranks with the rest of their party. Speaking to reporters after the vote Tuesday night, Moore said he never doubted that all 72 Republicans in the House would vote to override Cooper’s veto.
“This is one of those kinds of issues that folks generally aren’t very flippant about, and (isn’t) something they kind of decide on a whim, and we really made it a point throughout this session to have very frank and open discussions with all of our caucus members, and, despite some of the assertions on the other side, we talked to a number of Democratic members,” Moore said.
Rep. Ted Davis, a Wilmington Republican, was the only member of the House GOP caucus who didn’t vote on the bill when it first passed the House earlier this month. That led to speculation that he may not have been on the same page as the rest of his party. Davis was one of four Republicans Cooper targeted and called on to sustain his veto, by pointing to comments he made in a town hall last year where he said he supported keeping the 20-week law in place. After Tuesday’s vote, Davis told reporters that his caucus overwhelmingly supported overriding Cooper’s veto, and that he “was not going to turn my back on my caucus.” Addressing his stance before last year’s election, Davis said he “took a walk” during the initial vote to pass the abortion bill this month because it meant he was doing what he said he would do — supporting the law then on the books — and then voted to override Cooper’s veto once the bill was sent back to the legislature, to stand with his caucus.
Senate debate on abortion bill
In the Senate, Democrats and Republicans took turns speaking about the bill and trying to ask each other questions.
Democratic Sen. Natasha Marcus of Mecklenburg County criticized Republicans for fast-tracking the bill after it was introduced earlier this month, and said the speed at which it was passed out of the General Assembly without having any amendments be considered showed that the 12-week bill isn’t the “mainstream” and “popular and reasonable” proposal GOP leaders have described.
“I remember when I believed that the Republican Party stood for small government and personal freedom,” Marcus said. “We can debate exactly when that changed, but it’s clear that if you do this to North Carolina’s women and girls, if you make SB 20 the law here, you can’t claim to stand on those principles anymore.”
Sen. Michael Lee, a Wilmington Republican, pushed back against Democrats who claimed the bill was extreme, and criticized Cooper for repeatedly claiming last week that Lee’s support for the bill conflicted with his stance while campaigning last year. Ahead of last year’s election, Lee wrote an op-ed expressing support for a ban after the first trimester, with exceptions. “Right now, even though this bill does exactly what I put in my op-ed, the governor and people in this chamber are saying that I am somehow doing something inconsistent with what I said during the election cycle,” Lee said.
This article appears courtesy of our media partner The Charlotte Observer.