Republicans stayed united Tuesday, utilizing their supermajority to override Governor Cooper's veto on Senate Bill 20.
The measure, which bans most abortions after 12 weeks, was introduced and passed in both chambers within a 48-hour stretch earlier this month, with Republicans needing to only negotiate amongst themselves to come to an agreement.
Leadership in the House and Senate have acknowledged a range of views on the specifics of the restrictions within the party, culminating in a bill which includes exceptions for rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, or if a mother's life is in danger.
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Senator Michael Lee, who campaigned on a ban with exceptions following the first trimester, pointed to that language within the legislation.
"It's not an easy discussion because of the topics that we were talking about. But, you know, collectively, at least the folks that I had talked to and work with were very focused on being specific and clear and making sure that we had the protections in place," Lee said.
Needing every Republican to override the veto, conversations about the proposal lasted months, with Representative Tricia Cotham's decision to switch parties in April delivering the party the final vote necessary. Cotham, who earlier in the session sponsored a bill to codify abortion rights, shared a statement Tuesday night discussing her reasons behind backing this legislation, pointing to nearly $160 million in funding towards several resources outlined in the legislation.
Cotham wrote in part:
"I insisted that any abortion legislation include meaningful support and protections to mothers and children to give them the best chance at a good life. This bill provides hundreds of millions of dollars in support for paid parental leave, maternal healthcare, foster care, contraception, and community college tuition and job placement supports to ensure that women and their children have choices, protections and pathways to success. Finally, this bill provides important protections to mothers and children by keeping weapons out of the hands of domestic abusers and ensuring sexual child predators have lifetime GPS monitoring and tracking."
"You talk about contraception, you talk about prenatal care, you talk about, necessarily we had to talk about abortion, birth. We talked about things like education, access to child care. And so a lot of those issues really came up naturally and organically in our conversations," said Lee about discussions with fellow lawmakers on the formation of the bill.
He pointed to child care as a priority, with the bill including $32 million earmarked for the upcoming fiscal year and another $43 million next fiscal year to implement market rate increases.
There's further funding towards paid paternal care for state employees and teachers, access to contraceptives, reforms for maternal and infant mortality, and finish line grants, which assist students complete community college, a program which Governor Cooper has supported.
"I would say some of the things that are in this bill now are things that we were contemplating from a budgetary perspective. But this group together getting a consensus around $160 million is important and it was important to us to make sure that that we really focused on women, children and families," said Lee.
"I think it was a necessary part of the negotiation within the Republican caucus, but also it gives them some talking points to talk to people who may disagree with the decision and say, yeah, we really are trying to help," said Dr. David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College.
While supporters have called the restrictions mainstream, opponents have pointed to the additional requirements on both patients and doctors, including counseling and in-person appointments as measures which impact access to the procedure, especially amongst underserved communities. The latter was a focus of a series of roundtables Governor Cooper held last week with health professionals, advocates and patients.
"The number of administrative burdens introduced in this bill will make it impossible or incredibly difficult for my patients to access care. I think this is a dangerous bill," said Dr. Jonas Swartz, a Duke Health OBGYN, said during the final event in Gibsonville Thursday morning.
"If it was a reasonable compromise, why did it come out in the middle of the night? Why was there a requirement of no amendments? Why was there no public input," said Gov. Cooper during the event, echoing previous concerns regarding transparency of how the bill was initially introduced.
McLennan said abortion rights could potentially energize both parties in 2024, although it's too early to tell how big a focus it could hold.
"Whether (the funding towards programs) for people who are adamantly opposed to the reduction from 20 weeks to 12 weeks, I don't think that's going to make a whole lot of difference. But for people who may have been just slightly uncomfortable, that may make a difference," said McLennan, emphasizing there will be several issues voters consider.
In a statement, NCDHHS responded to the Senate Bill 20: "NCDHHS remains committed to the health and wellbeing of all North Carolinians. We are reviewing the items in the bill in which we receive funding. NCDHHS will implement any legislative appropriation in accordance with the law."
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