Oct 12, 2022 - News

The legislative races that could influence state abortion laws

Illustration of a caduceus over a divided red and blue background with elements of ballots.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

National Democrats have sought to center their campaigns on the issue of abortion following the U.S. Supreme Court's reversal of Roe v. Wade.

  • But it's North Carolina’s state legislative races that could determine whether the state — the most abortion-friendly in the Southeast — further restricts the procedure in the near future.

Why it matters: How well Democrats play the issue in the coming weeks could drive more of the party's base voters, along with swing voters, to the polls.

  • If enough Democrats and swing voters, namely suburban women, show up to vote because they're worried or angry about abortion rights, Democrats could win enough seats to block further restrictions from becoming law.

Context: Republicans only need to flip five seats — three in the state House, two in the state Senate — to win a supermajority in the General Assembly and override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's veto, which he’s expected to exercise if Republicans pass a bill tightening abortion restrictions.

What's happening: Democrats are rolling out ad after ad in legislative districts where both parties are vying for the support of suburban women.

  • In New Hanover County, home of one of the most competitive state Senate races, one ad featured Gov. Roy Cooper saying Republicans will pass a "cruel and extreme" abortion ban with no exceptions for rape or incest.
  • "Governor Cooper made it kind of a weapon down here," Sen. Michael Lee, the Republican incumbent in that race, told Axios. "In the urban areas, the other side has tried to use it as a kind of wedge."

Races to watch

The following races could determine whether or not it is further restricted in the state:

  • Senate District 7: Democrat Marcia Morgan vs. Republican incumbent Sen. Michael Lee, which includes almost all of New Hanover County
  • Senate District 17: Republican Mark Cavaliero vs. Democratic incumbent Sydney Batch, in southern Wake County
  • Senate District 18: Republican E.C. Sykes vs. Democrat Mary Wills Bode, in north Wake and Granville counties
  • House District 35: Republican Fred von Canon Democratic vs. incumbent Terence Everitt, in north Wake

Catch up quick: North Carolina currently bans women from getting an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

  • Though some Democrats claim Republican legislative will pass an extreme abortion ban if they win a supermajority in both chambers, Republicans throughout the state have indicated otherwise.
  • Senate leader Phil Berger has said he'd support banning abortion after the first trimester, and House Speaker Tim Moore said he'd support a ban after a fetus' heartbeat can be detected. Both said they supported exceptions.

State Sen. Sydney Batch, a Democrat from Holly Springs, said the question is not whether Republicans will vote for further abortion restrictions initially, but whether they will vote to sustain the governor's veto of such a bill.

  • "I don't know a single Republican who has ever sustained a governor's veto on abortion," Batch told Axios.

But, but, but: Some Democrats, most in the state House, tend to side with Republicans on the issue of abortion. So even if Republicans don't gain a supermajority there, the chamber could still override the governor's veto.


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