Could North Carolina follow Texas’ lead in trying to ban abortions after six weeks?

Could North Carolina follow Texas’ lead in trying to ban abortions after six weeks?

Yevonne Brannon and others gathered on Halifax Mall outside the N.C. General Assembly to protest on July 9, 2013, as lawmakers prepared to discuss abortion legislation.

North Carolina state lawmakers with opposing views on abortion agree on something: The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent refusal to temporarily block Texas’ sweeping, new abortion ban could mean the legislature has a shot at implementing similar restrictions here.

Now the toughest abortion restrictions in the country, the newly enacted Texas law bans the procedure after a fetus’ heart rate can be detected at around six weeks of pregnancy and gives citizens the power to sue anyone who “aids and abets” a person getting an abortion.

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision not to block enforcement of the law while courts determine whether it is constitutional is being hailed as a major victory by anti-abortion advocates across the country, including in North Carolina, where lawmakers are taking note of other states’ successes and how the courts respond.

The court’s ruling also comes as North Carolina’s Republican-led state legislature is gearing up to draw political districts that will be used in elections for the next decade. How they draw those maps and the Supreme Court’s ultimate ruling will determine whether conservative lawmakers can emulate Texas and pass a similar abortion ban as early as 2023.

Republicans need to win just a handful of seats in the 2022 elections to regain a supermajority. Such a victory would give the party enough conservative votes to override vetoes by the state’s Democratic governor, who has blocked abortion restrictions in recent years.

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“We’re all waiting to see what those maps are going to look like,” said Rep. Julie von Haefen, a Democrat who represents part of Wake County. “If they have a supermajority in 2022, I would be extremely concerned that they would further chip away at women’s reproductive rights here in North Carolina.”

Republicans may also benefit in the upcoming elections from the fact that Democratic President Joe Biden has grown unpopular in recent weeks following the removal of troops from Afghanistan. Though the president isn’t up for reelection, his policy decisions could push independent voters in this swing state to vote Republican down the ballot.

“I don’t have a lot of faith that we can override anything (now),” said Republican Sen. Joyce Krawiec, who led the charge on numerous abortion restriction bills in recent years. “So it would depend on what happens after the next election.”

NC’S CURRENT POLITICAL LANDSCAPE
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed every bill restricting abortions that has come across his desk since he took office in 2017. Republicans had the votes to override Cooper until 2018, when Democrats flipped enough legislative seats to break the GOP’s veto-proof majority.

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The conservative-run legislature has passed numerous anti-abortion bills since then anyway, in hopes that some conservative Democrats might back Republicans on the issue and vote to override the governor’s vetoes.

In 2019, Republicans nearly had the votes to override the governor’s veto of a bill that would criminalize medical providers who decline to treat infants who survive abortion but were ultimately unsuccessful in getting it over the finish line.

This year, Republicans tried again. The legislature passed an abortion bill that would restrict providers from terminating pregnancies because of the fetus’ race, sex or possible disability.

Several Democrats in the House voted in favor of the bill, but the legislature has not attempted to override the governor’s veto, because no Senate Democrats supported the measure.

Three House Democrats and two Senate Democrats would need to vote with Republicans to successfully override the governor. Without those votes locked in, the legislature is unlikely to attempt an override this year.

“We’re not getting any cooperation from Democrats on overriding,” Krawiec said, but “we’re certainly going to be looking for any opportunities to save babies.”

Also this year, a federal appeals court blocked a North Carolina law that tightened abortion restrictions and banned the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy — another sign that Republicans in the state have lost the abortion restriction battle, for now.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to act on the Texas law has given anti-abortion advocates in North Carolina hope, though, as lawmakers await its ruling on a Mississippi law prohibiting most abortions after 15 weeks. That decision is expected to come down next summer.

The fate of both of those laws will influence how North Carolina’s Republican lawmakers approach abortion legislation going forward. If Texas and Mississippi’s laws hold up and Republicans win a veto-proof majority in 2022, North Carolina’s legislature will almost certainly pass similar legislation.

“We are seeing anti-abortion activists and lawmakers more emboldened than they have been in a long time,” said Susanna Birdson, North Carolina director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.

For now, though, abortions performed by doctors in North Carolina remain legal.

For more North Carolina government and politics news, listen to the Under the Dome politics podcast from The News & Observer and the NC Insider. You can find it at link.chtbl.com/underthedomenc or wherever you get your podcasts.

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