RALEIGH — Republicans in the N.C. House were unable to achieve the three-fifths vote necessary to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of S.B. 359, the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. The override vote, at 67-53, fell five votes short of the 72 required, handing abortion advocates a victory after a series of recent national setbacks in states like Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Republicans argued the bill was not about abortion, but only about protecting those already alive outside the womb.
“Regardless of whether someone considers themselves pro-choice or pro-life, this is something we should all be behind,” Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said in a statement. “Any civilized society should make sure that a child that is born deserves the same medical care as any other human being.”
To make this point, GOP leaders invited two women who survived abortions, Gianna Jensen and Claire Culwell, to speak in a press conference the day of the final override vote.
“I was born in an abortion clinic in Los Angeles at 6 o’clock in the morning and my medical records do state ‘born during a saline abortion, April 6, 1977, 2½ pounds, 29½ weeks, no resuscitation required upon arrival at the hospital,’” Jensen said. “The only reason I was not strangled or suffocated or left to die was because the abortionist wasn’t at work yet.”
The other woman, Culwell, lives with disabilities after being born at just three pounds, following an abortion attempt that was only fully successful on her twin.
Democrats rejected this line of reasoning, saying N.C. doctors are already regulated by medical boards and physicians aren’t neglecting newborns.
“By practice, and according to the law of North Carolina, as well as federal law, all living infants in North Carolina are legally entitled to the care that they need,” said Democratic Rep. Deb Butler of New Hanover County, the only legislator Wednesday to speak against the bill. The measure, she said, would have created “division between caregiver and patient.”
The Senate voted to override in Cooper’s veto in April, but both chambers were required to override the governor’s veto.
“We are obviously horrified this veto override failed,” said primary House sponsor Rep. Pat McElraft (R-Carteret). In floor statements, McElraft told of her experiences as a nurse, seeing and hearing evidence of the practice of born alive infants being killed or left to die.
The “born alive” measure would have directed health care practitioners to grant newborns delivered after an abortion the same protections as other patients. Violators would have faced prison time and fines.
“It’s important to protect the lives of all children, and laws already exist to protect newborn babies,” Cooper’s office said in a statement released after the vote. “Instead of passing unnecessary legislation for political purposes we need to move on from divisive social issues and focus on the needs of North Carolina families: education, health care and good-paying jobs.”
The North Carolina House vote reflected the new partisan makeup of the House and Senate chambers since January, when six years of veto-proof GOP majorities ended after Democratic gains in November. Now, Republicans must get help from Democrats to override Cooper’s vetoes.
Although four House Democrats initially voted for the “Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act” in April, only two of them stuck with the measure Wednesday — Reps. Charles Graham of Robeson County and Garland Pierce of Scotland County. Republicans in the state Senate needed to capture the vote of just one Democrat for an override, which they did soon after the abortion veto.
But that Senate Democrat, Don Davis of Greene County, was immediately targeted by abortion advocates for a primary next year — something that may have dissuaded any House Democrats on the fence.
The vote occurred as supporters and opponents packed the House gallery. Some people seeking the override wore lapel stickers reading “I Vote Pro-Life,” while others backing Cooper’s veto wore pink, some with T-shirts saying “Protect Safe, Legal Abortion.”
Still, the frequency of doctors neglecting these live infants is unclear.
Republican lawmakers and pro-life activists often cited a CDC study of infant deaths from 2003 to 2014, which showed that 143 of the 588 deaths marked as terminations of pregnancy “could definitively be classified as involving an induced termination” after birth.
Because many states, including North Carolina, do not have reporting requirements, supporters of S.B. 359 say the numbers are likely much larger and the law was necessary to protect infants in these “born alive” situations.
U.S. District Judge William Osteen ruled in March that North Carolina’s 20-week abortion ban was unconstitutional, an action Republicans point to as evidence that late-term abortions now need more regulations in the state.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.