RALEIGH, N.C. -- North Carolina House Republicans met privately Tuesday to discuss where they stand on additional abortion restrictions, according to the chamber's top official.
But Speaker Tim Moore cautioned against expecting quick movement within the General Assembly among Republicans interested in narrowing further when abortions are permitted in the state.
North Carolina bans nearly all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with limited exceptions for urgent medical emergencies. Decisions over abortion have swung to the states since the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated federal abortion protections last June.
The Cleveland County Republican said that the House Republican Caucus was meeting Tuesday afternoon to "see where the consensus of the caucus is" on abortion legislation.
After the meeting, Moore said in a text: "Nothing has been decided as yet."
Most of the public discussion among Republicans has been centered around two options. One would prohibit abortions after the first trimester - 12 or 13 weeks of pregnancy - with new exceptions for rape and incest. Another would ban them once an ultrasound first detects fetal cardiac activity. That is typically about six weeks after fertilization and before many patients know they are pregnant.
"Those are the ranges that we're actively discussing right now," Moore said in a brief interview on the way to the caucus meeting, adding that "there's a consensus to do something."
Moore has said he personally supports the six-week prohibition, while Senate leader Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, has said he backs a first-trimester limit. Berger said later Tuesday that Senate Republicans had not yet found their own consensus but hoped both chambers ultimately would advance an identical measure or very similar bills.
Any agreement among House Republicans would serve as the basis for private negotiations with Senate Republicans, according to Moore, who prefers having one negotiated measure with Senate counterparts to advance publicly through the General Assembly.
While he said earlier Tuesday that a bill is "probably a couple weeks" away from surfacing, "we want to work through it - cover everything, get it right - instead of worrying about getting it done fast."
Any approved measure would be sent to the desk of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, a strong abortion-rights supporter. He campaigned for Democratic legislative candidates last fall by saying he needed them to uphold his vetoes on abortion restrictions. While Republicans still won a veto-proof majority in the Senate following the November elections, the GOP fell one seat short of a similar margin in the House. So Republicans likely would need help from at least one House Democrat to complete an override.
Anti-abortion advocates who support a six-week ban visited the Legislative Building on Tuesday. They gathered to hear from Moore and other legislators, including Democratic Rep. Garland Pierce of Scotland County, according to news outlets.
Pierce, a minister, said afterward that he wouldn't commit to being for or against an abortion measure until he saw details.
"I want to see just what the limits are, and how far or how close," Pierce told WRAL-TV. The North Carolina Values Coalition, which led Tuesday's lobbying effort, said it expected more allies to visit Raleigh on Wednesday.
"I think you will see a continued push from people around the state, from voters who have voted for people who have campaigned as being pro-life," coalition executive director Tami Fitzgerald told The News & Observer of Raleigh. "They're going to hold those people accountable for how they campaigned."
Abortion-rights advocates lobbied the legislative complex for two days last week. Physicians presented a letter signed by more than 1,000 healthcare providers asking that lawmakers oppose any additional restrictions beyond the current 20-week limit.