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North Carolina’s governor vetoes legislation that would limit abortion access

In front of a cheering crowd, North Carolina’s Democratic governor vetoed it the law Saturday that would ban nearly all abortions in his state 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Hundreds of abortion-rights activists and voters watched as Gov. Roy Cooper put his veto stamp on the bill in a plaza in the capital’s rally. The veto introduces a major test for leaders GOP-controlled General Assembly Attempting to override Cooper’s veto after recently gaining veto-proof majorities in both chambers. The bill is a Republican response to last year’s US Supreme Court decision Reversing Roe v. Wade.

“When that veto stamp comes down we have to kick it into even higher gear,” Cooper told the crowd. “If only one Republican in the House or Senate keeps a campaign promise to protect women’s reproductive health, we can stop this ban.”

Andrea Long, a 42-year-old mother of three from Cary, said she was honored to be part of an “electric” crowd for what she called a “historic day for freedom” in North Carolina.

“I couldn’t stop crying with joy to see the governor holding the veto stamp, but I know it’s an uphill battle to keep this momentum going,” Long said.

Cooper, a strong abortion-rights supporter, had until Sunday night to act on the measure, which tightens current state law, which bans most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Abortion North Carolina

Abortion rights supporters gather at Planned Parenthood South Atlantic’s Bicentennial Plaza in response to a bill before the North Carolina legislature.

Carl B. DeBlecker via AP

Cooper spent the week talking to North Carolinians about the bill’s lesser-known effects and urging them to put pressure on key Republican lawmakers who hesitated on further restrictions during last year’s campaign for office. The legislation passed along party lines in the House and Senate last week.

Republicans measured the move as a middle-ground change to state abortion laws developed after months of private negotiations between House and Senate GOP members. It adds exceptions to the 12-week ban, extending the limit to 20 weeks for rape and incest and 24 weeks for “life-limiting” fetal anomalies.

But Cooper repeatedly said the details contained in the 47-page bill show that the measure is not a reasonable compromise and instead would greatly erode reproductive rights.

He cited new barriers to abortion for women — such as requiring multiple in-person visits, additional paperwork to prove a patient has given their informed consent for an abortion, and increased regulation of clinics that provide the procedure.

Cooper and colleagues said these changes in practice would shut down clinics that can’t afford the major upgrades mandated by the new licensing standards and make it nearly impossible for women living in rural areas or working long hours to access abortion services.

Compared to recent work by Elsewhere in the Republican-controlled Legislature, a broad ban after 12 weeks may be seen as less onerous for other states where the procedure is almost completely banned. But abortion-rights activists argue that it is more restrictive than meets the eye and would have far-reaching consequences. Since Roe was overturned, many patients traveling from more restrictive states have come to rely on North Carolina as the locale for post-pregnancy abortions.

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Republicans called the legislation pro-family and pro-child, pointing to at least $160 million in spending for maternal health services, foster and adoption care, contraceptive services and paid leave for teachers and state employees after a child is born.

Cooper singled out four GOP legislators — three House members and one senator — who he said had “campaign commitments to protecting women’s reproductive health.” Anti-abortion groups have accused Cooper of trying to bully them.

One of those House members is Rep. Tricia Cotham of Mecklenburg County, who voted for the bill weeks after switching from the Democratic Party to the GOP. The move gave Republicans a veto-proof supermajority if all their legislators were present and voted.

Cotham has spoken out for abortion rights in the past and even co-sponsored a bill earlier this year to codify abortion protections into state law. Rep. Ted Davis of Wilmington — another targeted legislator — was the only Republican absent from last week’s House primary vote. The Senate margin is already veto-proof after GOP gains last November.

Davis said last fall that he supported “what the law is in North Carolina right now,” which was a 20-week limit. Davis declined to comment on the bill, but House Speaker Tim Moore said recently that Davis was a “yes” vote for an override.

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