North Carolina’s Dem Governor Vetoes Potentially Unstoppable Abortion Ban

The North Carolina legislature’s GOP supermajority, which has the power to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto, looms large.
The North Carolina legislature’s GOP supermajority, which has the power to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto, looms large.

The North Carolina legislature’s GOP supermajority, which has the power to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto, looms large.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) vetoed a 12-week abortion ban on Saturday. But the state legislature’s GOP supermajority, which has the power to override Cooper’s veto, looms large.

Cooper signed the veto at a rally in Raleigh, surrounded by physicians, fellow Democrats and other abortion-rights advocates.

“We’ve heard Republican legislators claiming this bill is a mainstream compromise,” Cooper said to the crowd, with OB-GYNs among those joining him on the stage. “Let me tell you what, mainstream bills don’t get written in secret, kept under lock and key, introduced in the dark of night, kept from public input, protected from any amendments and then get rammed through in less than 48 hours.”

After Republicans pushed the abortion ban through the legislature in just 48 hours, Cooper traveled to several swing districts on an aggressive press tour to defend his veto. The governor, who supports abortion rights, hosted a handful of roundtable discussions on reproductive health and the impacts that a 12-week abortion ban would have on North Carolinians.

“If just one Republican follows his or her conscience, if just one Republican finds the courage, if just one Republican listens to doctors, if just one Republican is unafraid to stand up to the political bosses, if just one Republican keeps that promise made to the people, then we can stop this ban,” Cooper said at the rally.

Republicans crafted the abortion ban behind closed doors, unveiling it earlier this month to the surprise of many voters in the state. Instead of introducing a new piece of legislation, Republican lawmakers quietly tucked the 46-page abortion restriction into an unrelated piece of legislation. The move allowed anti-abortion lawmakers to circumvent the committee process, where most public testimony is heard, and go straight to a vote.

The ban passed through the state House (71-46) and Senate (29-20) less than 48 hours after Republicans introduced the legislation. Four lawmakers were absent for the votes; two Democrats and a Republican in the House, and one Republican in the Senate.

Cooper, who vetoed several anti-abortion bills in the past, is newly vulnerable since state Rep. Tricia Cotham switched parties and handed the GOP a critical veto-proof supermajority. Cotham had been an advocate for abortion rights throughout her tenure in the legislature, and earlier this year she co-sponsored a bill to codify abortion protections alongside who were then her fellow Democrats. She voted to pass the 12-week abortion ban.

Democrats only need one Republican in either the House or Senate to vote against the ban and sustain Cooper’s veto power.

“Ted Davis, Michael Lee, John Bradford and Tricia Cotham promised to protect women’s reproductive freedom. There’s still time for them to keep their promises,” Cooper tweeted shortly after the legislature passed the ban.

Republicans keep saying they have the votes for a veto-proof supermajority. It’s unclear what the two Republicans absent from the initial vote will do.

If the restriction does become law, it would have devastating effects in North Carolina and the surrounding area. The Tar Heel State has become a safe haven for abortion care since Roe v. Wade fell last year, after over a dozen Southern and Midwestern states enacted near-total abortion bans. The state has experienced a 37% increase in abortions since last June ― the highest-percentage increase of any state.

The 12-week abortion ban has a slew of other restrictions, including requiring patients to go to two in-person trips to the clinic, a 72-hour waiting period and several restrictions on medication abortion.

The legislation also seeks to impose new licensing requirements on abortion clinics, which could lead to some shutting down. There are 14 abortion clinics in the state, meaning 91% of counties are without a clinic.

There are exceptions for rape and incest through 20 weeks of pregnancy and an exception for lethal fetal abnormalities through 24 weeks. The bill also includes an exception for the life of the pregnant person, and clarifies that the removal of an ectopic pregnancy is not defined as an elective abortion. The bill requires that any abortion performed after the 12-week point, under the exceptions, needs to be done in a hospital. It’s worth noting that abortion ban exceptions often don’t work in practice, and sometimes represent a strategy by anti-choice lawmakers to make an extreme bill look more reasonable.