RALEIGH, N.C. -- The North Carolina House on Wednesday approved a Republican package of abortion restrictions that would tighten the state's ban on the procedure from after 20 weeks to after 12 weeks, while creating new exceptions but also more requirements for pregnant women and physicians.
The fast-tracked legislation, which emerged the previous day after months of private negotiations among House and Senate GOP members, was scheduled to receive a final vote in the Senate on Thursday morning and could reach the desk of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper later that day.
Cooper, a strong abortion-rights supporter, vowed to fight the measure.
"I will veto this extreme ban and need everyone's help to hold it," Cooper said in a tweet.
But Republicans now hold veto-proof majorities in both General Assembly chambers after a House Democrat switched to the Republican Party last month. That advantage was reflected in the House's 71-46 vote for the measure Wednesday night after an hour of debate.
Supporters of Senate Bill 20 call it the Care for Women, Children and Families Act. But critics say it is a power grab meant to take bodily autonomy away from women.
A line of hundreds of people wrapped around the NC House Chamber on Wednesday afternoon ahead of lawmakers' public session.
The protesters were upset at what they see as Republican overreach on women's rights. Democratic lawmakers spent Wednesday slamming Republicans for fast-tracking a bill they say most North Carolinians don't want.
NCGOP has appeared emboldened to push bills touted by social conservatives in the wake of getting Rep. Tricia Cotham, of Mecklenburg County, to switch parties -- after she ran for and won office in a heavily Democratic district by decrying Republicans for their stances on LGBTQ and women's rights issues.
Cotham's vote gave the NCGOP the power to override vetoes from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
On Tuesday, Republican leadership announced a joint agreement on specifics for a bill to restrict abortion in the state.
This bill would ban abortions after 12 weeks, with longer time periods in place for rape, incest, fetal abnormalities and if a mother's life is in danger.
It would also provide millions of dollars of funding towards resources including paid maternity leave, adoption tax credits, contraceptives, and foster care.
"This bill is a step in the right direction for unborn babies and their mothers. For the first time in 50 years, North Carolina is moving toward making this a destination for life instead of a destination for abortion," Tammi Fitzgerald, NC Values Coalition said. "We approve of these measures because these protect women. These are women-forward measures."
Democrats believe they were excluded from the process, upset that the bill was announced on short notice.
"I thought I had a little bit more time. I knew this was a possibility and we were close to the supermajority for Republicans, but I was not expecting this. That's for sure," Durham resident Danielle Pierson said.
They also expressed concern over language in the bill, including specifics of exceptions.
"If we lose our right to bodily autonomy, I mean that's your body, that's your self. And it's just demeaning and dehumanizing. And I think that's the message we are sending today. And that's great," said Raleigh resident Samantha Weaver.
Republicans in the NC Senate tell ABC11 they do not expect to vote on the bill today, but could do so as soon as Thursday.
During public comment period for the bill, both pro and anti-abortion supporters shared their reactions to the measure.
"The requirements proposed in this bill are not evidenced-based, or in any way beneficial to patients, but rather create further barriers and hoops for patients and providers alike to have to jump through in order to provide care for our patients. The care that they deserve, and that only we together with our patients know is best," said Dr. Jenna Beckham.
"In my current practice, I only see women with unintended pregnancies. They're often alone, scared, and coerced. They deserve to be empowered with information before making a decision of such massive consequence. Informed consent is an ethical obligation of doctors and this bill addresses that," said Dr. Susan Bane.
According to NCDHHS, in 2018, more than 85% of North Carolinians who had an abortion did so within the first twelve weeks.