May 3, 2022 - Politics

Gov. Roy Cooper's lonely fight to defend abortion rights in N.C.

Photo illustration: Allie Carl/Axios. Photo: Raleigh News & Observer/Getty Images

If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper would be the only person standing between the Republican-controlled General Assembly and tighter abortion restrictions in North Carolina.

  • During his two terms in office, Cooper has used his veto power on multiple abortion bills passed by Republicans.

Yes, but: Republicans in the state capitol are circling. They only need to flip a handful of legislative seats — three in the House and two in the Senate — to have enough votes to override Cooper's vetoes. That's within reach this November.

Why it matters: The draft ruling leaked to Politico on Monday night, threatens to reshape midterm races in North Carolina and beyond.

  • With all 170 state legislative seats up for grabs this year, Republicans are hoping for a red wave that will allow them to overpower Cooper during his remaining two years in office.
  • Republicans are expected use the upcoming legislative session to revive abortion bills that stalled last year or were vetoed by the governor. The session starts later this month.

"We know that Democratic governors are the strongest and last line of defense to protect abortion rights," Cooper said in an interview with Axios Tuesday. "We have always been in that position, but now it's even more intense."

State of play: Last year, a federal appeals court ruled that North Carolina's ban on abortion after 20 weeks was unconstitutional. But if SCOTUS overturns Roe, the 20-week ban would likely be reinstated.

  • The legislature could then move to pass a total or near-total abortion ban.

What he's saying: "I'm going to work hard to elect Democrats to our state legislature in order to protect people from what a supermajority, right-wing, Republican legislature could do to affect their quality of life," Cooper told Axios.

  • Cooper, who is on an island in the South, surrounded by Republican governors, is a rising national Democratic star. He serves as chair of the Democratic Governors Association and says part of his job now will be to work to elect Democratic governors across the country.
  • "That's where the battles will move to — the state capitals — and where these fundamental freedoms will be won and lost. And it will matter who [the] governors are."

Of note: Abortion rights are also likely to become central in North Carolina's U.S. Senate race between Democrat Cheri Beasley, who wants to expand access, and whoever emerges from a crowded Republican field in the May primary.


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