The North Carolina House and Senate have passed a new bill that will limit abortions after 12 weeks of fetal development.
The bill contains exceptions for rape and incest up until 20 weeks of pregnancy, fetal abnormalities up until 24 weeks, and the life of the mother all the way through pregnancy.
The legislation passed the General Assembly on Thursday with a vote of 29-20 in the Senate after the longest debate in a decade. As it stands, Republicans have the votes to override Gov. Roy Cooper, who said earlier this week he would veto the bill.
Sen. Todd Johnson, R-Union, was the lone absent senator. However, Senate leader Berger said there was nothing to read into regarding Johnson’s absence, and that Johnson would vote to override Gov. Cooper when the time comes.
The House passed the same bill on Wednesday by a vote of 71-46. All Republicans present in both chambers voted for the bill, while all Democrats present voted against it. There was one absent Republican in the House—Rep. Ted Davis, R-New Hanover. Many had speculated whether Davis would uphold Cooper’s veto, since he had once said in a debate he would vote not be influenced by the Speaker or anyone else on how he votes regarding abortion.
On Thursday, the Senate session began at 10:00 AM, and the chamber held debate on the abortion bill once it finished passing the other bills on the calendar. The chamber took a break around noon, as many of the Republican members had planned to join members of the public across the street for the National Day of Prayer.
While most of the Republicans went to pray, the Democrats went to caucus. In the caucus meeting, the Democrats decided to filibuster, or draw out the debate process, as long as possible under the Senate rules.
According to one Senate staffer, Sen. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, who is a little more moderate than some of his Democratic counterparts, was overheard saying he tried to talk his colleagues out of the stunt they were about to conduct.
Each and every Democratic senator used every second of their allowed time to speak against the bill, many of whom went well over their time. Berger, who was chairing the session, allowed this leeway.
The debate lasted for nearly six hours.
Before and during the debate, Democratic leadership, including Sens. Dan Blue, D-Wake, and Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, tried several tactics in an attempt to delay voting on the bill. Blue said the bill was out of order, citing saying the General Assembly must first pass its budget, which Berger ruled against, and was seconded by the Senate Rules chair. The motion was also appealed to the entire body, where it failed.
Other attempts at slowing the bill failed. Because of the stunt, Senate Democrats presumably burned up any goodwill they had with Republicans, who have governing majorities in both chambers and do not need to work with the minority party on legislation.
At one point early on in the debate, a protestor from the gallery seated above shouted, “Abortion rights now,” prompting Berger to tell the audience to maintain order.
“If there are disturbances, we will clear the gallery,” Berger said.
The protestors mostly maintained order following Berger’s threat to remove them from the gallery. However, after the vote, the protestors roared.
The House had a similar, although surprisingly less lengthy, debate on the bill.
Rep. Julie von Haefen, D-Wake, spoke on the bill last.
“No matter what you do, women and pregnant people will continue to seek the care they need and have the abortions that they need,” von Haefen said.
She later requested that the House Journal state that she constitutionally protested the legislation.
Proponents have pointed out that by 12 weeks, the baby’s heart has already been beating for about six weeks, often pumping a different blood type through its veins than the mother. By 12 weeks, the baby has been able to turn its head, frown, and hiccup for about a month. By 12 weeks, the fingernails and teeth have been developing for a few weeks already. While some pro-life speakers in committee said it did not go far enough, they could support it.
Bill sponsor Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, said the complex bill is written to make it easier for women who would prefer to keep their babies to do so by appropriating $160 million on various social programs, including help for foster care, extended parental leave, community college scholarships for parents, subsidized daycare, increasing the safe surrender of an infant age from seven days to 30 days old, subsidized or free birth control, and $700,000 to the State Maternity Home Fund which provides free housing and care services.
Opponents have pushed back, particularly on the requirement in the bill that women have an in-person meeting with a medical professional at least 72 hours before the procedure. Current law allows the three-day waiting period to start after a phone call. In the bill, women must also have an in-person follow-up appointment after a medically-induced abortion. Opponents of these measures say they make it more difficult to travel to N.C. from other states for an abortion.
On Sunday, Cooper appeared on the national talk show Face the Nation to blast North Carolina legislative Republicans for the bill and repeated his intention to veto it.
“It will effectively ban many abortions altogether because of the obstacles that they have created for women, for clinics, and for doctors,” he said on the show.
During the Senate floor debate, Sen. Vickie Sawyer, R-Iredell, repeatedly pushed back when legislators referred to the new abortion restrictions as a ban. Sawyer said the legislation is not a ban—even after 12 weeks when elective abortions are no longer allowed, there are exceptions.
The bill was presented to the governor Friday. He has ten days to act on it, or it becomes law without his signature.