NC lawmakers to propose new abortion limits as soon as next week, top Republican says

Republican lawmakers plan to file a new bill restricting abortion access. How far it should go is still up for debate among Republicans.

Posted Updated

Travis Fain
Will Doran, WRAL state government reporters

A Republican-backed bill to further limit abortion access will likely be filed at the state legislature as soon as next week, House Speaker Tim Moore told WRAL News.

Moore said he expects a bill to reduce the number of weeks at the start of a pregnancy when abortion will be legal. He just doesn’t know yet what that proposed cutoff will actually be, he said in an interview.

"I'd say there's support at six [weeks], there's support at 12," Moore said. "There's a varied opinion in the [Republican] caucus. There's some who'd probably say, ‘Leave it at 20.’"

State law currently bans abortions after 20 weeks, unless needed later on to save the mother’s life.

Lawmakers face pressure from Christian groups to ban abortion entirely, or at least decrease the number of weeks in which abortions are legal at the start of a pregnancy.

A group of antiabortion activists came to the legislature Tuesday, where Moore and other lawmakers — including, notably, one Democrat, Rep. Garland Pierce — gave brief speeches to the group.

In an interview after, Pierce wouldn’t commit to voting either for or against the bill until he saw the details.

“I want to see just what the limits are, and how far or how close,” said Pierce, a Scotland County pastor who is one of few Democrats still in the legislature to have voted for anti-abortion bills in the past.

Support from Democrats is critical for House Republicans. The GOP is one seat short of a majority big enough to easily override vetoes by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Republicans already have a veto-proof supermajority in the Senate.

“We find ourselves with a unique opportunity this year to move the ball in a very significant way,” Moore told the activists Tuesday.

Moore said in an interview that GOP lawmakers are still trying to figure out exactly where to draw the line, a task that's more complicated because opinions among the dozens of Republican legislators are "all over the map." House Republicans met Tuesday for a closed-door debate over where to set the limit, Moore said.

Little public debate

North Carolina’s 20-week cutoff had previously been ruled unconstitutional, since the standard set in Roe v. Wade guaranteed women over a month more time to make their decision. But conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court undid Roe v. Wade last summer — giving individual states the power to set new, lower limits.

North Carolina's 20-week ban went into effect once Roe was overturned, but GOP leaders have long said they want to go further, now that they can. Much of the conversation has focused on a ban after 12 or 13 weeks, but Republicans face pressure to pass a ban after six weeks, in part because most abortions happen before those thresholds.

In 2020, 93% of abortions nationwide happened before the 13 week mark, and 81% before nine weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's abortion tracking program.

GOP lawmakers didn't propose any such bills last year, knowing that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper would guarantee any further abortion restrictions and Democrats in the legislature wouldn't go along with a veto override.

But in the 2022 midterms, Republicans won the Senate supermajority and came one seat short of that mark in the House. A veto override requires 60% of the lawmakers who are present when the vote is called. So Republicans need just one Democrat to either vote for an abortion bill, or skip the vote, to be able to override Cooper's veto as long as every Republican is on board.

While there's still uncertainty over where exactly GOP leaders will propose drawing the line on future abortions, it's also unlikely that the general public will know exactly why Republican leaders arrive at whatever decision they ultimately make.

The idea is to have very little public debate over where to draw the line. Moore said House and Senate leaders will meet in private to come to an agreement, and then they will roll out a bill after they have an agreement, so that the two chambers don’t have to get into a public debate over that decision.

“Everything would be agreed-upon on the front end,” Moore said.

Berger agreed with that plan Tuesday. Asked when the bill would be filed, Moore initially predicted next week, then backed that off to "possibly" next week. Berger was less optimistic.

"The discussions are ongoing, and I'm just not at a place where I can offer a whole lot of guidance as to what the timeline looks like," he said.

Support for a full ban?

Legislative leaders have previously said they think a full ban on abortion would be a step too far. But state government’s highest-ranking Republican executive office-holder disagrees.

On Monday, in a radio show hosted by Republican Rep. Jeffrey McNeely of Iredell County, Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson said that if he were governor, he’d like to sign a bill completely banning all abortions — mentioning no exceptions like for rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

“If I had all the power right now, let’s say I was the governor and had a willing legislature, we could pass a bill saying you can’t have an abortion in North Carolina for any reason,” Robinson said.

Robinson has said he is likely to run for governor in 2024. He is widely expected to be the GOP frontrunner if he does.

“Mark Robinson has made clear he doesn’t trust women to make their own health care decisions and is now pushing the Senate chamber toward one of the most extreme restrictions possible,” said North Carolina Democratic Party spokesperson Kate Frauenfelder, referring to the fact that as lieutenant governor, Robinson also presides over the state Senate.

Years ago, Robinson and his now-wife decided to abort a pregnancy, something Robinson has said shapes his views on the topic today. .

He told McNeely in the interview Monday he regretted that decision — and that in addition to banning abortion, he would also want to see the government working on improvements to child care, adoptions and other support for parents.


Copyright 2024 by Capitol Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.