Jan 31, 2023 - News

North Carolina Republicans weigh their next abortion move

Animated gif of two elephants involved in a tug of war with their trunks

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

North Carolina Republicans are eyeing abortion restrictions that go beyond the state's 20-week ban, and for the first time in years, the party has a fair shot at passing them into law.

  • But lawmakers have yet to decide how far they'll go.

Why it matters: Where Republicans end up on the issue could change North Carolina's status as the least restrictive state for the procedure in the South, halting the wave of abortion-seekers who have flocked to the state since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June.

  • The dueling factions of the party, however, may make it difficult for any abortion restrictions to make it to Cooper's desk this year or next.
  • "This is going to be one of the hardest bills that we consider this session," said Republican House Majority Leader Rep. John Bell. "We do not have 61 votes to pass any abortion bill right now," he said of the House Republican caucus.

State of play: Republicans in each chamber have honed in on two potential proposals: One that would restrict abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which Republican House Speaker Tim Moore has publicly backed, and another that would ban them after the first trimester, which Senate leader Phil Berger supports.

  • Both leaders are in favor of exceptions for incest, rape and the life of the mother. Incest and rape exceptions are not currently in place with the 20-week ban.

The big picture: Internal debates over the issue are also unfolding as North Carolina gains national attention for another aspect of the abortion rights fight.

  • In one of the first lawsuits since the fall of Roe v. Wade, a North Carolina doctor argues that the state's restrictions on abortion pills run counter to federal law.

Context: Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper would likely veto any measure to restrict abortions. But Republicans won an "effective" supermajority in the legislature in November and would need only the help of one Democrat to override his veto.

Yes, but: Every single Democrat in the legislature has signed onto legislation that would codify Roe v. Wade — an early signal that they intend to stay united on the issue.

What they're saying: "Although the members of our caucus have varying perspectives on how to approach this issue, all Republican members are united in their desire to enact legislation that protects additional lives and provides additional support to women, children and families," a spokeswoman for Moore said in a statement. "The Speaker is confident this will result in a comprehensive bill they will all support."

Be smart: Both House and Senate Republicans are expected to each propose their own legislation on the issue, but, as of now, the caucuses have yet to vote on which restrictions to propose.

Lucille's thought bubble: It looks like Republicans are more likely to unite behind a ban after the first trimester of pregnancy, with exceptions, based on chatter I'm hearing from lawmakers, lobbyists and others.

  • But the legislative session is just beginning, and the winds could shift.

The bottom line: You may see some extreme abortion restrictions filed this year, too, but if the bill isn't proposing a fetal heartbeat ban or a post-first trimester ban, it probably won't pass.

  • We'll let you know if that changes.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include details on new legislation from Democrats to codify Roe v. Wade.

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