By HANNAH SCHOENBAUM, GARY D. ROBERTSON and DENISE LAVOIE (Associated Press)
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Legislation banning most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy will become law in North Carolina after the state’s Republican-controlled General Assembly successfully overrode the Democratic governor’s veto late Tuesday.
The House completed the second and final part of the override vote after a similar three-fifths majority — the fraction necessary — voted for the override earlier Tuesday in the Senate. The party-line outcomes represent a major victory for Republican legislative leaders who needed every GOP member on board to enact the law over Gov. Roy Cooper’s opposition.
Cooper vetoed the measure over the weekend after spending last week traveling around the state to persuade at least one Republican to side with him on the override, which would be enough to uphold his veto. But in the end, the four Republicans targeted by Cooper — including one who recently switched from the Democratic Party — voted to override.
Republicans pitched the measure as a middle-ground change to state law, which currently bans nearly all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, without exceptions for rape or incest.
The votes came as abortion rights in the U.S. faced another tectonic shift with lawmakers in South Carolina and Nebraska also considering new abortion limits. North Carolina and South Carolina have been two of the few remaining Southern states with relatively easy access.
Such restrictions are possible because the U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which established a nationwide right to abortion.
Under the bill up for a vote Tuesday in the South Carolina House, abortion access would be almost entirely banned after about six weeks of pregnancy — before women often know they’re pregnant. The South Carolina state Senate previously rejected a proposal to nearly outlaw abortions.
Nationally, bans on abortion throughout pregnancy are in effect in 14 states.
Abortion is banned or severely restricted in much of the South, including bans throughout pregnancy in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia. In Georgia, it’s allowed only in the first six weeks.
The Carolinas, Florida and Virginia are now the main destinations in the region for those seeking legal abortions. Florida has a ban that kicks in 15 weeks into pregnancy. Under a recent law, that would tighten to six weeks pending a court ruling. Further west, women often travel to Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico or Colorado.
If both the North and South Carolina bans become law, combined with Florida’s recent ban, “it would be just devastating for abortion access in the South,” Jamie Lockhart, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, said earlier Tuesday.
After the final vote Tuesday in the North Carolina House, abortion-rights advocates and Democrats in the chamber gallery loudly booed the outcome and shouted “Shame!” Many observers in the gallery were escorted out by General Assembly police.
Similar displeasure poured out after the earlier North Carolina Senate debate, although many anti-abortion demonstrators also were in the audience, pleased with the outcome.
“Today marks the beginning of North Carolina’s first real step towards becoming a pro-life state,” Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the socially conservative North Carolina Values Coalition, said after the House vote.
Senate Republicans said Cooper ignored $160 million within the measure that would boost funding to increase contraceptive services, reduce infant and maternal mortality and provide paid maternity leave for state employees and teachers.
“This bill provides resources for the pregnant woman. It provides broad resources and a significant knowledge base to enable her, to equip her in finding a path forward — a path forward for her, and a path forward for her unborn child,” said Rep. Kristin Baker, a Cabarrus County Republican and psychiatrist.
The new abortion limits set to take effect July 1 also will include rape or incest exceptions through 20 weeks of pregnancy and exceptions for “life-limiting” fetal anomalies during the first 24 weeks. An existing exception for when the life of the pregnant woman is in danger will remain.
Democrats focused on details of the abortion rules, which they said would place barriers between women and their doctors, leaving those who are pregnant in danger, with less access to abortion services.
“Women did not ask for your oversight. We didn’t ask for your approval,” Rep. Julie von Haefen, a Wake County Democrat, told GOP colleagues. “It’s our fundamental right to make decisions about our own bodies and our own health care.”
Cooper said in a statement after the vote that he’ll “continue doing everything I can to protect abortion access in North Carolina because women’s lives depend on it.”
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the law ”will make it even more difficult for women to get the reproductive health care they need.”
North Carolina Republicans were able to complete the override due in large part to Mecklenburg County Rep. Tricia Cotham’s party switch to the GOP last month. That gave Republicans veto-proof seat majorities in both chambers.
Cotham has supported abortion rights in the past. She said in a statement late Tuesday that the bill “strikes a reasonable balance” that anyone not holding “extremist positions” on abortion can support.
In South Carolina, the impasse dates back to a special session last fall when House lawmakers demanding a near-total ban did not meet to negotiate with their Senate counterparts pushing for a ban around six weeks.
The stalemate persisted even after the state Supreme Court in January struck down a previous law banning abortions once cardiac activity is detected.
That decision left abortion legal through 22 weeks of pregnancy. A sharp increase in abortions since then has rankled Republicans.
The House was weighing a Senate bill similar to the one they denied last year. The measure would ban abortion when an ultrasound detects cardiac activity, around six weeks.
A late night is expected even after Republicans invoked rules to limit debate. House Speaker Murrell Smith has said the chamber will not adjourn until the measure gets approval. Democrats slowed the process Tuesday by speaking for all three allotted minutes on each of their hundreds of amendments and forcing other procedural votes.
In Nebraska, conservatives in the Legislature got just enough votes Tuesday to fold a proposed 12-week abortion ban into a bill that would ban gender-affirming health for minors.
Throughout, hundreds of protesters filled the Capitol rotunda just outside the chamber doors, nearly drowning out debate at times with chants, shouts and foot stomping.
The plan won the 33 votes it needed in the state’s one-chamber, officially nonpartisan legislature to end debate and set up other votes to advance it. It must now survive a final round, which could happen as soon as Thursday, to pass.
In Montana, Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte’s office announced Tuesday that he had signed into law a bill that makes performing the abortion method most commonly used after 15 weeks of gestation a felony. Planned Parenthood of Montana asked a judge to temporarily block the ban on dilation and evacuation abortions.
A separate challenge to abortion access will be considered Wednesday, when a federal appeals court hears arguments on whether the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the widely used abortion drug mifepristone should be overturned. A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will review a ruling last month by a federal judge in Texas who ordered a hold on approval of mifepristone, a decision that overruled two decades of scientific approval of the drug. That ruling was stayed while the appeal is pending.
The three judges who will hear the case each have a history of supporting restrictions on abortion. A ruling is not expected immediately.
Lavoie reported from Richmond, Virginia. Associated Press writers James Pollard and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina, Geoff Mulvihill in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Amy Beth Hanson in Helena, Montana and Sarah Rankin in Richmond, Virginia contributed to this report. Schoenbaum and Pollard are corps members for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.