NC Democrats seek to add abortion rights to state law

8 June 2022

— As the nation waits to see whether the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn the landmark abortion-rights decision in Roe v. Wade, North Carolina Democrats are calling for abortion rights to be protected by state law.

House and Senate Democrats have filed House Bill 1119 and Senate Bill 888, identical proposals to codify the abortion rights granted in the Roe case in state statute. It would allow abortion until viability, usually around 23-24 weeks, as well as after that if the doctor deems it necessary. It would also remove restrictions on abortion passed by Republican majorities over the past decade, including the 72-hour waiting period, the counseling mandate, and the ultrasound requirement.

A draft decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson case, leaked to the public last month, would rescind the high court’s finding in Roe of a fundamental Constitutional right to privacy, leaving it up to states to decide whether to allow abortion to remain legal, restrict it or ban it outright.

“The high court is about to strip away what not only has been five decades of a protected federal Constitutional right, but it will also override the will of the majority of people,” Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham, said Wednesday at a news conference on the bills.

Draft Decision Overruling Roe v. Wade Would Remake Abortion Landscape

A number of GOP-led states have already passed “trigger laws”—anti-abortion measures designed to take effect should Roe be overturned. North Carolina doesn’t have a trigger law in place, so if the court rules as expected, abortion would continue to be legal in this state. But Morey warned that could change quickly if those rights are not preserved in law.

“We are seeking to maintain existing fundamental rights that have existed since 1973, and to remove other North Carolina restrictive barriers that impede a woman’s health care decisions,” said Morey, a sponsor of the bill.

“We do not need bans that result in the criminalization of medical care,” said Rep. Carla Cunningham, D-Mecklenburg, another main sponsor of H119. “Abortion is a common part of reproductive health care, period. And bodily autonomy is a fundamental human right.”

The lawmakers were joined by advocates including Dr. Beverly Gray, an obstetrician and gynecologist from Durham who performs abortions in the scope of her medical practice. She said nearly one out of four women will have an abortion over the course of their lifetimes. And she noted that abortion is already difficult to access for most North Carolinian women, since 92 out of 100 counties lack an abortion provider.

“I care for patients every month facing dire medical emergencies where their pregnancy threatens their life,” Gray said. “Access to safe abortion saves lives, period. We depend on access to abortion to provide safe care to patients, and the lives of North Carolinians are in the balance.”

Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the NC Values Coalition, a group that opposes abortion rights, called the bills “political theater,” since no official decision in the Dobbs case has been issued yet.

“It shows the hand of what Democrats will do if they stay in office,” Fitzgerald said of the proposal. “We have 76 babies a day that lose their lives in North Carolina because of abortion. This issue is about saving the lives of unborn babies who are unique individuals and have human rights.”

Fitzgerald added: “We believe that life begins at conception, and we believe that viability is just an arbitrary cutoff date to make people feel better about abortion. They [unborn babies] are not part of their mother. They’re separate from their mother even though they’re being carried by her.”

She also pointed out that legislative leaders have said they don’t intend to take up any abortion bills this session.

Abortion Pills Stand to Become the Next Battleground in a Post-Roe America

Rep. Julie von Haefen, another bill sponsor, conceded that point. Both bills were sent to their respective House and Senate Rules committees. In years past, similar bills have failed to get a hearing.

“We still feel like it’s very, very important to show the people in North Carolina that we’re fighting for these rights. Whether they take them up or not is up to leadership,” von Haefen, D-Wake, said. “I wish that we could have a robust discussion on this issue and just let people’s voices be heard.”

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