Will NC remain an abortion ‘safe haven’ after next session?

Gov. Roy Cooper signs an executive order to protect abortion in NC after Dobbs. Photo provided by Governor's Office.

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  • Questions are being raised about how much more restrictive North Carolina's abortion law may become after the GOP became one vote shy of a supermajority after the General Election.

Republicans have secured a supermajority in the North Carolina Senate and a “functional supermajority” in the state House — since they are only one vote shy, and there will be at least a couple of Democrats willing to break with the party on most issues. So, a crucial question being asked is: what are Republican plans regarding abortion law in the 2023-2024 session?

The question has become more focused as North Carolina’s less-restrictive abortion laws have made the state a “safe haven” in a post-Dobbs South.

Planned Parenthood’s Jillian Riley told WLOS in early November that “North Carolina is a critical access point for abortion care in the South and Southeast,” adding that abortion restrictions in surrounding states are “causing people to get in a car, travel across the night in order to find the health care that they need, the abortion care that they need.”

In response to these sorts of statements by Planned Parenthood and others who want to see the state continue to be a regional safe haven for abortions, Lauren Horsch, spokesperson for Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, pushed back.

“It’s tragic that Planned Parenthood is advertising North Carolina as a ‘destination’ to get an abortion,” Horsch said in Nov. 16 comments to Carolina Journal. “The Senate Republican Caucus has not discussed our policy goals for the upcoming session. As the pro-life caucus, we anticipate discussing how to protect the unborn.”

A study by FiveThirtyEight showed that demand for abortions has declined in the United States after Dobbs but that the impact on specific states varies widely. In many states, like Texas and Ohio, abortions have plummeted. But in states that have not seen significant changes in abortion law after Dobbs, abortions have surged, especially if the state bordered more-restrictive states.

North Carolina was near the top of the states seeing a spike in out-of-state abortion seekers, second only to Illinois. The study found that three-week wait times were typical for abortion providers in the state.

After Dobbs, North Carolina’s 20-week limit on abortions was held up in court for weeks. But federal Judge William Osteen determined on Aug. 17 that there was no reason to block the law with the federal Roe and Casey precedents struck down.

Before Osteen’s decision, both state House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and state Senate Leader Phil Berger made statements indicating they would consider additional abortion legislation after the 2022 midterms.

Moore said North Carolinians can “expect pro-life protections to be a top priority of the legislature when we return to our normal legislative session in January.” And Berger said, “Senate Republicans will determine whether other steps are appropriate to strengthen our pro-life laws” in 2023.

In an October interview with the Associated Press, Berger said he would like the law to limit abortion after about 12 weeks and for it to provide exceptions for rape, incest, and the mother’s life. He said he’s not aware of any Republican leaders in the General Assembly who are not in favor of these exceptions.

Moore told Associated Press that he favored an earlier limit, starting when a heartbeat is detectable, which is generally identified at around six weeks.

Planned Parenthood’s political arm, concerned about these potential changes to abortion law, put $5 million into North Carolina General Assembly races in the final weeks.

Emily Thompson, deputy director of Planned Parenthood Action PAC NC, told the AP that if they “don’t elect reproductive rights champions in five key state Senate races, an anti-abortion supermajority will have the votes to ban abortion in North Carolina.”

But Republicans were able to win enough of these races in the 2022 midterms to secure a Senate supermajority. General Assembly Republicans are likely to discuss what steps they will take in the new year now that abortion policy is a state issue and Cooper’s veto is no longer likely to be a factor.