North Carolina Democrats are prepared to fight a 12-week abortion ban on Tuesday ― even if Republicans have made it nearly impossible.
The Tar Heel State has made national headlines this month for a dramatic turn of events over the state’s abortion laws. Despite several states enacting extreme bans since Roe v. Wade fell, most abortion-rights advocates were confident that North Carolina would maintain its 20-week abortion restriction because of pro-choice Gov. Roy Cooper (D) and his veto powers.
But after one lawmaker’s stunning party switch, Republicans now have a veto-proof supermajority ― rendering Cooper’s veto useless to the 12-week abortion ban that state GOP leaders pushed through the legislature earlier this month.
The legislature set a vote on Tuesday at 4 p.m. EST to override Cooper’s recent veto of a 12-week abortion ban that will have devastating consequences for the entire Southeast if enacted. North Carolina is not only a critical access point for those who live there, but also for thousands who have been forced to cross state lines to get care since their home state banned abortion.
And Democrats are bracing for the worst.
“The last week or so has shown how many people in North Carolina are really opposed to this,” state Rep. Julie von Haefen (D) told HuffPost. She said she hopes her Republican colleagues are listening to the widespread dissent of the abortion ban, but she’s not optimistic.
“Honestly, we’ve seen the Republicans here in our state voting in lockstep on almost every issue like this,” von Haefen added. “Whether it’s guns or private school vouchers or abortion ― we don’t really see the Republican caucuses breaking from their ranks and that’s disappointing.”
Republicans crafted the abortion ban behind closed doors, unveiling it earlier this month to the surprise of many voters in the state. Instead of introducing a new piece of legislation, Republican lawmakers quietly tucked the 46-page abortion restriction into an unrelated bill. The move allowed Republicans to circumvent the committee process ― where most public testimony is heard and amendments can be added ― and go straight to a vote less than 48 hours after introducing the legislation.
“This was always their plan, to run this through without any insight, in the dark of night, so that the rest of the general public won’t know that little girls today will have less rights than their mothers,” state Sen. Sydney Batch (D) said of her Republican colleagues.
“They want this done as quickly as possible,” she added. “They want to hold this override, and they want to be done talking about abortion. But we will not allow them to be done.”
If Republicans successfully override Cooper’s veto, the 12-week ban and its additional restrictions around medication abortion will go into effect on July 1.
Less than 24 hours after Republicans introduced the bill, the state House was voting on it. It gave lawmakers extremely limited time to read over the 46-page bill and ask pertinent questions. Even sponsors of the bill had trouble answering questions from Democrats during limited debate time, said von Haefen. She hopes Republican leadership will allow for debate before the override vote, but given that debate was barred during the most recent override vote on a gun law ― it’s not likely.
Cooper vetoed the 12-week abortion ban at a rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, this past weekend surrounded by physicians, abortion-rights advocates and fellow Democrats. In a bid to gain support to sustain his veto, Cooper traveled to several swing districts in the weeks since Republicans pushed the abortion ban through the legislature.
“If just one Republican follows his or her conscience, if just one Republican finds the courage, if just one Republican listens to doctors, if just one Republican is unafraid to stand up to the political bosses, if just one Republican keeps that promise made to the people, then we can stop this ban,” Cooper said before vetoing the bill.
Although Republicans hold a veto-proof supermajority, there are four lawmakers who Cooper and other Democrats have eyed as possible swing votes who previously made promises to protect abortion care. Three Republicans in the state House, Reps. John Bradford, Ted Davis Jr. and Tricia Cotham, and one in the Senate, Sen. Michael V Lee. However, Lee told The New York Times that a 12-week ban is in line with his views on abortion.
Davis declined to comment on the bill, but House Speaker Tim Moore (R) said Davis is a “yes” vote for the override. While running for reelection last year, Davis promised to support the state’s existing 20-week restriction.
Batch said she knows several Republicans who personally do not support the 12-week abortion ban, but will vote along party lines anyway.
That only leaves Bradford and Cotham. Bradford, who has yet to comment on the ban, said last year that he had no intention of restricting abortion past the current 20-week limit.
Cotham is the controversial and central character to the creation of the 12-week abortion ban. She switched parties earlier this year, handing Republicans their critical veto-proof supermajority. The former Democrat was once an outspoken advocate for abortion rights, even sharing her own abortion story on the House floor in a passionate plea against an abortion restriction in 2015. Earlier this year, she co-sponsored a bill to codify abortion protections as a response to the Supreme Court’s decision to repeal Roe v. Wade last summer.
“That you could go 180 and just disregard your own history and your own values in the way that she has ― I can’t explain it, and I don’t know how anybody could do that,” von Haefen said.
Cotham said she switched parties because the Democratic party had changed since she first joined over five years ago and her Democratic colleagues were controlling. However, Batch’s understanding of Cotham’s choice is that there were Republican lobbyists who were helping her raise a significant amount of money back in her 2022 primary race.
“It is a betrayal of every single person in her district. That she would not only change parties but also absolutely violate and break every promise that she made to her constituents,” Batch said. “It was a bait-and-switch, and it was always going to be a bait-and-switch.”
Democrats will do their best to persuade their Republican colleagues to sustain Cooper’s veto, but, whatever happens, they won’t go down without a fight.
“The people of North Carolina deserve to know that there are representatives that are fighting for them. We might get steamrolled, but we will be very loud about it in the process ― if we’re gonna lose, we’re gonna lose loudly,” Batch said. “That is the least that we can do to show everyone in North Carolina what’s actually happening down in Raleigh.”