Gov. Roy Cooper intends to veto significant abortion legislation this Saturday. But leading up to that, he is embarking on a tour aimed at pressuring lawmakers to reconsider their stance on abortion, or at least the current bill.

Cooper is visiting their districts and rallying opposition in an attempt to intimidate Republican lawmakers in swing seats.

Cooper’s four GOP targets

The main focus of Cooper’s pressure campaign is four Republicans: Reps. Tricia Cotham, R-Mecklenburg; Ted Davis, R-New Hanover; and John Bradford, R-Mecklenburg; and Sen. Michael Lee, R-New Hanover.

Each of these Republicans has indicated more moderate positions on abortion. However, despite Cooper’s claims otherwise, the new bill Republicans passed largely aligns with their positions. Each of these lawmakers likely contributed to the bill allowing elective abortion all the way through 12 weeks rather than the 6-week heartbeat marker, which Republicans were also considering.

The bill Republicans passed allows elective abortion through 12 weeks and bans most abortions after 12 weeks, with exceptions for rape and incest through 20 weeks and the life of the mother all the way through pregnancy. The bill also includes exceptions for fetal abnormalities through 24 weeks.

  • Sen. Michael Lee: Indicated support for a 12-week ban with exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother.
  • Rep. Tricia Cotham: Used to be pro-choice but recently indicated her thoughts have evolved on the issue.
  • Rep. Ted Davis: Said during the 2022 campaign cycle that he would not be pressured by Speaker Tim Moore on how to vote on abortion legislation.
  • Rep. John Bradford: Has been more moderate on the abortion issue and said during the campaign, “I have no intentions myself of going back to Raleigh and trying to make the 20 weeks more restrictive.” However, he also appeared to indicate he might support a 6-week heartbeat bill if there were exceptions afterward for rape, incest, and the life of the mother on a questionnaire for the “NC Family Policy Council” (see below).
Bradford responded “No” when asked if abortion should be prohibited after a fetal heartbeat is detected, and wrote it is because he believes in exceptions for “cases of rape, incest [and] mother’s health is at risk.”

There are indications that all four Republicans are more moderate on abortion; however, three of four voted for Senate Bill 20. Davis was absent for the vote.

Cooper’s pressure campaign: Mecklenburg

Cooper’s first stop on the tour took place in north Mecklenburg, inside of Bradford’s district. Bradford was not among the crowd of six people who Cooper had a 45-minute discussion with about the bill held at Davidson’s Town Hall.

Cooper did not hold a stop in Cotham’s district, which is in eastern Mecklenburg County and includes Mint Hill.

In addition to his initial vote, Bradford released a scorching statement claiming Cooper has gone out of his way not to work with him in the past.

“I am serving my 4th term in the legislature and the Governor wouldn’t know me if he bumped into me,” Bradford said. “In March he hosted a Down syndrome advocacy event and despite being the leading advocate for Down syndrome in the state legislature, I was excluded. Last session I was the primary bill sponsor for an organ donor transplant discrimination bill. He held a public bill signing event but chose not to invite me, the number one primary sponsor and Republican, and instead invited a Democrat legislator.”

Bradford also pointed to a time Cooper went against his own campaign promises.

“In 2017, I sent him a personal letter and a box of I-77 toll lane markers that were coming loose and causing safety issues. I asked him to honor his campaign promise to cancel the I-77 toll roads. He ignored my letter and request. It’s ironic that Cooper acts like he knows me, wants to work with me or is even talking about honoring campaign promises.”

Cotham’s relationship with the governor is also strained, claiming her experiences with Cooper were part of her decision to leave the Democratic Party.

“It became very clear to me early on, in January, that you better vote in line with everything Gov. Cooper tells you to do, from signing onto bills, to [letting Cooper] pick your seat on the House floor, to your committee requests — all of this sense of control,” said Cotham. “I will not be controlled by anyone.”

Cooper’s Pressure campaign: wilmington

On Wednesday, Cooper met with another small panel of people, one of whom is a top-level executive of Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion operation in the United States. Several abortion doctors were also present.

Planned Parenthood’s PAC spent more than $2 million helping Cooper get elected in 2016 alone.

The panel took place at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, inside Sen. Lee’s district and less than two miles from Rep. Davis’s district.

When Lee was asked about Cooper’s pressure campaign against him, Lee said he wouldn’t let Cooper “try to bully me out of legislation I campaigned on supporting.”

Lee did, in fact, campaign on supporting abortion restrictions after 12 weeks of fetal development with exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother. Senate Bill 20 includes all of these provisions.

“I was clear on my position then, and I am clear now — I support 1st trimester abortions with exceptions beyond the first 12 weeks,” Lee said. “That is exactly what this bill does.”

Speaker Moore told reporters the day after the House passed Senate Bill 20 that Davis would vote with Republicans to override Cooper’s veto.

In a press conference introducing the legislation, Speaker Pro Tem Sarah Stevens, R-Surry, said that all Republicans were supportive of the bill.

What happens next:

Senate Bill 20 hit Cooper’s desk on Thursday evening. He has 10 days to issue his veto before it would become law without his signature.

Cooper announced earlier this week that he would hold a veto ceremony this upcoming Saturday morning, delaying as long as possible without having to issue the veto on Mother’s Day.

Republicans are expected to vote to override Cooper quickly, enacting the new restrictions into law.

Demi Dowdy, a spokesperson for House Speaker Tim Moore, said Cooper thinks he can pressure legislators to vote how he wants, but his campaign will not deter the House’s plans to override his veto.

“By calling out specific Republicans in swing districts, Gov. Cooper seems to believe he can pressure these Republican members into voting his way, just as he has bullied members of his own party,” Dowdy said. “The Speaker has always encouraged each of our members to vote their conscience on behalf of their constituents, and he is confident they will continue to do just that. We will ultimately override the governor’s veto of SB 20 when the time comes.”

The Senate will be responsible for voting on the override first and also expects a swift vote.

“Senate Bill 20 is a mainstream approach to limiting elective abortions in the second and third trimesters, supporting women and children, and ensuring that women have options available to them,” said Lauren Horsch, a spokesperson for Senate leader Phil Berger. “It’s obvious that Gov. Cooper can’t defend his own extreme stance on abortion since he has resorted to bullying other elected officials and making up outright lies about what is included in the bill. Senate Republicans look forward to setting the record straight and swiftly overriding Gov. Cooper’s veto.”

Sources say the Senate override vote could come as soon as Tuesday and that Senate Democrats are planning similar stalling tactics to last week.