Health Care

N.C. governor vetoes abortion ban

Republicans promised swift action to override Cooper’s veto.
North Carolina Republican Senate leader Phil Berger, left, and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper shake hands at a ceremony celebrating Medicaid expansion Monday, March 27, 2023, at the Executive Mansion in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Hannah Schoenbaum)

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) on Saturday vetoed legislation that would ban many abortions, setting up a showdown with Republican lawmakers who have no room for error as they prepare an attempt to force the measure into law over Cooper’s objections.

Existing state law permits abortion up to 20 weeks. The new bill would cut that limit to 12 weeks, though with exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest through 20 weeks, and those that pose a threat to the life of the mother through 24 weeks.

“Let’s be clear, this bill has nothing to do with making women safer, and everything to do with banning abortion,” Cooper told a rally of reproductive rights activists who gathered at the state capitol in Raleigh. “How about we leave medicine to the doctors and the decisions to the women?”

The bill requires a woman obtaining medication abortions — which account for the vast majority of abortions conducted in the United States — to visit a doctor several times, and to sign a consent form 72 hours prior to receiving medication. It places new burdens on abortion clinics, limiting the medical facilities where a surgical abortion can take place.

The bill passed the legislature on party-line votes, after one Democratic state representative, Tricia Cotham, left the party to join Republicans. The GOP now holds 30 of 50 seats in the state Senate, and 72 of 120 seats in the state House — the exact number of votes needed to override Cooper’s veto.

Cooper has spent the days after the bill’s passage pressuring four Republican lawmakers — Cotham, state Reps. Ted Davis (R) and John Bradford (D) and Sen. Michael Lee (R) — who had previously expressed support for looser restrictions on abortion. He needs just one of their votes to sustain his veto.

But Republicans believe they can hold the line to override the veto and force the new measure into law.

“Gov. Cooper has spent the last week actively feeding the public lies about Senate Bill 20 and bullying members of the General Assembly,” Senate President Phil Berger (R) said in a statement Saturday. “He has been doing everything he can, including wasting taxpayer money on poorly attended events, to avoid talking about his own extreme views on abortion.”

“I look forward to promptly overriding his veto,” Berger said.

North Carolina would be the latest state, many of them in the South, to place new restrictions on abortion rights. Eight states — Florida, Idaho, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia and Tennessee — have passed bills that ban all or most abortions, measures that are largely stricter than the North Carolina version. Utah lawmakers approved a new ban on abortion after 12 weeks, though that law has been blocked by a state judge.