In the months after the fall of Roe v. Wade, North Carolina experienced the largest spike in abortions of any state — its numbers fueled by a relatively permissive law and a Democratic governor promising to block the Republican-led legislature from enacting antiabortion measures.
But in recent weeks hard-liners in Raleigh have launched a plan to override a future veto and ban abortions as soon as around six weeks of pregnancy.
At the center of the effort are a handful of Democratic legislators with a history of voting for antiabortion legislation and who could now provide the GOP with enough votes to override a veto by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper. That group, which includes two pastors of predominantly-Black Baptist churches, is facing pressure from both sides.
‘’I lay down with it, I wake up with it,’’ said Democratic state Representative Garland Pierce, who leads the congregation at Bright Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Laurinburg, N.C. ‘’When you reach deep down you want to be sure you’re doing the right thing.’’
The showdown in North Carolina reflects similar efforts underway in several conservative states that have become destinations for post-Roe abortion care. In Florida and Nebraska — where laws still allow the vast majority of abortions to continue — conservatives are also pushing for six-week bans, which, together with the same kind of ban in North Carolina, could dramatically reshape the national abortion landscape once again.
Legal abortions increased in all three states after the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion in June, according to an October report from WeCount, a research project led by the proabortion rights Society of Family Planning.
North Carolina has emerged as a major abortion refuge, with a law that allows abortions at up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The state legislature’s unusual dynamics were apparent this week after the full Democratic membership signed onto a bill that would codify Roe v. Wade into law. Democratic leaders had intended the legislation to be a show of unity on abortion, though nobody expects it to pass in the Republican-dominated legislature.
‘’The one thing that’s clear in North Carolina is that Democrats are united on protecting women’s rights and access to abortion,’’ said Morgan Jackson, an adviser to Cooper. ‘’Republicans have been crowing for months that they have a path to abortion restrictions. The Democrats closed the door on that.’’
But Pierce made clear that, despite the appearance of party unity, the door to an abortion ban remains open.
He told The Washington Post that he had been under enormous pressure and that he signed onto the bill with Democrats this week to ‘’stop the bleeding.’’
‘’Everybody changes their mind about things and we’ll see how it goes,’’ he said.
‘’The process has just started,’’ he added. ‘’This is the first quarter.’’
Democrats have little margin for error.
Republicans fell just one seat short during last year’s midterm elections of securing a veto-proof majority in the state House that conservatives had hoped would propel a new abortion law. If they can win over just one House Democrat, antiabortion leaders say they’ll likely have the votes to replace the state’s current 20-week limit.
Republicans already have enough votes in the Senate to override a veto. But the Senate leader, Phil Berger, has yet to endorse a six-week ban. Instead, he has publicly backed a less restrictive 12-week limit.
NC Values Coalition, one of the leading antiabortion groups in North Carolina, has drafted a six-week abortion ban that they are offering to legislators ‘’as a starting point,’’ said Tami Fitzgerald, the group’s executive director. She said they are starting the process of contacting Democrats who have voted for previous antiabortion legislation.
While Fitzgerald declined to offer specific names, her group is likely targeting three Democrats who voted in 2021 to pass the ‘’Human Life Nondiscrimination Act,’’ which would have banned abortions on the basis of the fetus’ race, sex, or a diagnosis of Down syndrome but was vetoed by the governor. That list includes Representative Michael Wray, a small-business owner, as well as the two pastors — Pierce and Representative Amos Quick, who leads the Calvary Baptist Church in Greensboro.