12-week abortion limit official after House overrides veto

House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain)

RALEIGH — The North Carolina House of Representatives successfully voted to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto on Tuesday, May 16, modernizing the state’s laws regarding abortion following a contentious two weeks in state politics.

Cooper had spent the past two weeks encouraging the public to pressure four specific lawmakers to uphold his eventual veto, which he signed at a “veto rally” in Raleigh the day before Mother’s Day.

The House voted along party lines to override Cooper after hours of a floor debate mainly by House Democratic members. The final vote tally was 72 in favor and 48 against.

“I am proud that the House has overridden the Governor’s veto of this meaningful, mainstream legislation. Senate Bill 20 will save lives and provide needed support for women and families while putting North Carolina’s abortion law in line with the most of rest of the free world,” North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Eden) said in a statement on the successful override.

“Today the North Carolina House of Representatives has affirmed the value of human life, and I am proud that the ‘Care for Women, Children, and Families Act’ is now law,” said Moore.

Senate Bill 20, the Care for Women, Children, and Families Act, reduces the elective abortion timeframe and maintains exceptions for the life of the mother, fetal anomalies, incest, and rape. 

Included in the legislation are multiple items to support women and families totaling more than $180 million: $75 million to expand access to child care, almost $59 million for foster care, more than $16 million that includes federal matching funds to reduce infant and maternal mortality, and $20 million to pay for maternity and paternity leave for teachers and state employees.

The override process began in the Senate earlier in the day. The Senate overrode the veto in a vote down party lines of 30 to 20.

“This is a monumental moment for women, children, and families in North Carolina. Our bill puts to rest all of the noise and lies we’ve been hearing this past week, and brings to life a culture that cherishes motherhood and saves the lives of the unborn,” read the joint press statement on the override issued by Sens. Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth), Lisa Barnes (R-Nash), Amy Galey (R-Alamance), and Vickie Sawyer (R-Iredell).

Cooper issued a statement within minutes of the House override vote taking place.

“Strong majorities of North Carolinians don’t want right-wing politicians in the exam room with women and their doctors, which is even more understandable today after several Republican lawmakers broke their promises to protect women’s reproductive freedom,” Cooper said in a statement.

“For the last two weeks, Republican sponsors of this abortion ban have strenuously argued that it is much less restrictive than we warned, so we will now do everything in our power to make sure that’s true,” said Cooper. “North Carolinians now understand that Republicans are unified in their assault on women’s reproductive freedom and we are energized to fight back on this and other critical issues facing our state. I will continue doing everything I can to protect abortion access in North Carolina because women’s lives depend on it.”

The North Carolina Democratic Party echoed some of Cooper’s sentiments.

“Today, Republicans have sent a message to North Carolinians that they don’t trust them to make their own health care decisions. SB20 is dangerous legislation that puts politicians in the middle of deeply personal health care decisions and abandons the medical advice of doctors who urged lawmakers to stop this ban,” North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Anderson Clayton said in a statement.

Clayton went on to target the same lawmakers as the governor.

“It is shameful to see Republican members John Bradford, Tricia Cotham, Ted Davis, and Michael Lee flip-flop and betray their constituents to toe the party line,” said Clayton.

One of those lawmakers responded with a statement of her own, breaking her silence since voting for passage of the bill.

“I understand that there are extremists on both sides of the abortion issue,” Cotham said. “Some of the absolutists believe abortion is unacceptable in any circumstance and some of the absolutists believe aborting a perfectly healthy child in the 40th week of pregnancy is morally acceptable. I cannot support either of these extreme positions.

“I – like most North Carolinians – think abortion is a complicated issue without absolute answers. Abortion is an unpleasant subject for many women, and I know of no woman that considered having an abortion that did so flippantly or unseriously,” said Cotham. “Despite what some people on the fringes may claim, contemplating an abortion is a grave decision, not a choice I’ve ever known anyone to celebrate.

Cotham continued, “After extensive review, I believe this bill strikes a reasonable balance on the abortion issue and represents a middle ground that anyone not holding one of the two extremist positions can support.”

“This legislation gives women continued access to elective abortions during the first trimester of a pregnancy in consultation with their doctor. This is the timeframe when most abortions occur. However, this bill ends elective late term abortions in North Carolina. While crucially providing exceptions for rape, incest, severe fetal abnormalities, and to protect the life of the mother. Women continue to be guaranteed unrestricted care in the event of a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy.

“I insisted that any abortion legislation include meaningful support and protections to mothers and children to give them the best chance at a good life. This bill provides hundreds of millions of dollars in support for paid parental leave, maternal healthcare, foster care, contraception, and community college tuition and job placement supports to ensure that women and their children have choices, protections and pathways to success. Finally, this bill provides important protections to mothers and children by keeping weapons out of the hands of domestic abusers and ensuring sexual child predators have lifetime GPS monitoring and tracking.

“Some call me a hypocrite since I voted for this bill,” Cotham said in closing. “They presume to know my story. As I said at the time, I had an ectopic pregnancy that sadly ended in miscarriage, not an elective abortion. In fact, Senate Bill 20 affirms the life-saving care I received in that dire situation. It was very important to me that this legislation protects all women going through a miscarriage or other complications – and it most certainly does.”

Attorney General Josh Stein, who is running for governor in 2024, also put out a brief statement that said “This bill is about controlling women and taking away their freedoms. And they are not done yet. They will keep coming until they completely ban abortion in every instance. We can’t let them.”

Stein went on to say that “despite this defeat, we will keep fighting at every turn. Our freedoms are too important to ever give up.”

Other reactions came from the North Carolina Republican Party (NCGOP) and the NC Values Coalition, a conservative organization based in the Charlotte area whose members turned out in large numbers to support the override votes.

“The voters of North Carolina have rejected the radical abortion-on-demand position of Roy Cooper, Josh Stein, and the Democrat Party,” said NCGOP Chairman Michael Whatley. “I commend our Republican-led General Assembly for overriding Gov. Cooper’s veto of this balanced and widely-supported legislation and moving forward to protect life in North Carolina.”

“Today marks the beginning of North Carolina’s first real step towards becoming a pro-life state as the ‘Care for Women, Children and Families Act’ becomes law of the land,” NC Values Coalition Executive Director Tami Fitzgerald said in a press release. “Pro-life North Carolinians have waited over 50 years to roll back the gestational age for sanctioned killing of pre-born children. With this veto override, legislators have rejected Governor Cooper’s extreme, unreasonable position of abortion without restriction up to birth.