On late Tuesday, Republican supermajorities in both houses of the North Carolina state legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill banning abortion at 12 weeks with exceptions so narrow as to be meaningless. The law is slated to take effect beginning July 1.
Earlier this month, Republicans in the North Carolina legislature rushed through the bill with little discussion. Last Saturday, Cooper vetoed the bill at a public rally in Raleigh attended by thousands of abortion rights supporters. Cooper called the measure a “complicated and confusing monster bill” that makes patients “navigate a wicked obstacle course just to get care.”
Most voters in North Carolina support abortion rights. A February poll from Meredith College found that 57 percent of North Carolina voters support either keeping the state’s 20-week limit or expanding access, while only about 35 percent favored new restrictions.
Cooper had called on four moderate Republicans to oppose the veto override—state Reps. Ted Davis, John Bradford, Tricia Cotham and Republican state Sen. Michael Lee—all of whom had vowed to support reproductive rights. Cotham had campaigned in favor of abortion rights as a Democrat but switched parties in April to give Republicans a veto-proof supermajority.
The bill bans any licensed physician from performing abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy. The bill purports to provide exceptions for pregnancies resulting rape and incest through 20 weeks of pregnancy and for a “life-limiting anomaly” through 24 weeks—but these exceptions are so narrowly drawn as to be unworkable. The bill has no exception for preserving the health of pregnant women, allowing abortion only necessary to avert death, “not including psychological or emotional conditions.” Physicians violating the law face dire consequences, including loss of license, civil litigation and criminal prosecution, leading to jail time or fines.
The bill also puts severe restrictions on access to medication abortion, especially for people coming from out of state. The bill would require people seeking abortion pills to have an in-person consultation with a doctor 72 hours before obtaining the medications in person from the doctor—requiring two appointments, three days apart. This provision directly conflicts with FDA standards allowing telemedicine abortion.
The bill would impose a $5,000 fine against any individual or company who mails, provides or supplies abortion pills to pregnant women in North Carolina in violation of these restrictions. The bill also fines individuals or organizations that promote the sale of abortion pills by advertising, hosting or maintaining a website or providing an internet service “purposefully directed to a pregnant woman who is an NC resident”—a clear violation of free speech rights.
The bill funds programs to prevent low-income women from becoming pregnant while at the same time funding middle- and upper-income women to stay at home to care for babies. The bill appropriates $3.5 million for long-acting reversible contraception (LARCs) for “underserved, uninsured, or medically indigent patients” while appropriating $10 million for paid leave for employed women.
North Carolina had been one of just a few states still allowing abortion in the South. In the first two months after the Supreme Court overturned constitutional abortion rights in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, abortions in North Carolina rose by 37 percent, more than any other state.
Six months after Dobbs, North Carolina abortion providers served nearly 5,000 more patients, many of whom came from neighboring states, such as Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. These people will now have to travel much longer distances to receive abortion healthcare.
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