North Carolina Poised to Ban Most Abortions at 12 Weeks
North Carolina is poised to become the next Southern state to dramatically restrict abortion access. On Thursday, the state Senate adopted a motion that will ban most pregnancy terminations after 12 weeks. The fast-tracked legislation, which passed North Carolina’s House of Representatives on Wednesday night, was made public less than 24 hours before it was put to a vote.
The Senate chamber erupted in chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” the moment voting concluded.
The bill now heads to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk. He’s vowed to veto it, but, as of last month, there are enough Republicans in both of the state’s legislative chambers to override such a veto.
A matter of hours before it passed the Senate by a vote of 29 to 20, the House of Representatives passed the same measure on a party line vote, 71 to 46. Rep. Tricia Cotham — elected as a pro-choice Democrat in a district that Biden won by 23 points — voted in favor of the ban.
Once an outspoken advocate for abortion rights, Cotham switched party affiliation to become a Republican last month. That flip gave Republicans a supermajority in the Legislature, depriving Cooper his ability to veto legislation. (Cotham attributed her decision to bullying; among other indignities, she said she was “criticized for using the American flag and praying hands emoji on all my social media platforms — and even on the back of my vehicle.”) Just a few months ago, Cotham co-sponsored a bill that would have codified the protections of Roe, prohibiting restrictions on abortion before the point of viability, or around 23 weeks.
The new ban represents a massive blow to abortion access across the South. Under existing law, pregnancies may be terminated through the 20th week of pregnancy in North Carolina, with some exceptions after that point — a policy that made the state one of few remaining refuges for women seeking care in the region. According to one analysis, North Carolina saw the largest spike in abortions of any state following the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade, a 37 percent increase.
The legislation passed on Thursday would increase the burden on individuals seeking a medication abortion by requiring them to attend at least three in-person visits with a medical provider, each 72 hours apart: a counseling session, the appointment to receive medication, and a follow-up. (North Carolina’s mandatory waiting period, 72 hours, is among the longest in the country.) North Carolina’s new restrictions on medication abortion come as the federal government moves to relax rules around medication abortion, declaring the drugs safe enough to be dispensed by a pharmacist with no medical appointment at all.
The new abortion restrictions were attached to an unrelated bill — the Safe Surrender of Infants Act — which did not include any language changing the state’s abortion laws when it was introduced in January. The new provisions, hammered out by Republican lawmakers behind closed doors using a procedural mechanism, were made public for the first time on Monday. Because the new restrictions are part of a conference report, rather than a stand-alone bill, they cannot be amended, and there is extremely limited opportunity for public comment.
The bill includes exceptions until 20 weeks of pregnancy for cases of rape or incest, and 24 weeks for some fetal anomalies.
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