Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Davis backtracks on campaign promise, votes with GOP to override governor veto on abortion bill

Signs from an abortion protest in Wilmington following the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June 2022. (Port City Daily/Brenna Flanagan)

The GOP’s attempts to curtail abortion access have proven successful after all party members voted to override the governor’s veto of a bill that bans elective abortions after 12 weeks.

After pleas to vote against the bill from medical societies, progressive groups and Gov. Roy Cooper himself, the override passed both chambers along party lines Tuesday night. All eyes were on four legislators Cooper specifically called out — Sen. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover), Rep. Ted Davis (R-New Hanover), and Reps. Tricia Cotham (R-Mecklenburg) and John Bradford (R-Mecklenburg). 

READ MORE: General Assembly passes 12-week abortion ban, local Republicans silent on vote

ALSO: ‘There is still time’: Gov. Cooper talks abortion ban with local healthcare advocates prior to veto

The governor claimed the members — which all voted for the bill — were “not honoring their platforms” they ran on during last year’s election. This remained true for one New Hanover County legislator, Ted Davis, who was absent for the bill’s initial vote.

At a candidate forum hosted by Port City Daily, WECT and WHQR last year, Davis stated the state’s 20-week allowance was sufficient.

“I believe in the word of the law. I support what the law is right now in North Carolina, and that is that a woman can have access to an abortion up to the first 20 weeks of pregnancy,” Davis said. “Then after that, in order to have an abortion, I believe in reasonable restrictions. And those reasonable restrictions are rape, incest, the viability of the fetus or the health of the mother.”

Senate Bill 20 allows abortions to be performed up to the 20th week for instances of rape or incest, 24th week for lethal fetal abnormalities, and throughout the pregnancy if the mother’s life is threatened.

Cooper targeted another New Hanover County representative, Sen. Lee, who took time during the Senate session to deny he went back on his word. 

“I usually don’t do the political thing in here, but the Democratic caucus members in this very chamber and the governor got on television, or the governor got on television, said completely the opposite of what I wrote,” Lee said.

Lee was referring to the op-ed he penned in the StarNews last year stating “second- and third-trimester abortions – when the baby can feel pain, has a beating heart, ten fingers, and ten toes – are abhorrent and should be restricted.”

At the candidate forum, Lee advocated for an elective abortion restriction after the first trimester, with exceptions thereafter, the same language that appears in SB 20.

The other representatives in the tri-county — Rep. Charles Miller (R-New Hanover, Brunswick), Rep. Frank Iler (R-Brunswick), Rep. Carson Smith (R-Pender), Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick) and Brent Jackson (R-Pender, Bladen, Duplin, Sampson, Jones) — voted in favor of the override. 

Rep. Deb Butler (D-New Hanover) was the only local representative to vote against it.

“Because this regressive law will affect every single woman in this state for the entirety of her reproductive life, for most women, that’s a sword of Damocles hanging over her head for 30 to 35 years,” Butler said. 

She also noted how access to abortion affects almost all facets of a woman’s life. 

“The research is unequivocal in its conclusion that access to abortion care does in fact, profoundly affect women’s lives by determining whether when and under what circumstances they become mothers,” Butler said. “And these determinants, the choices that a woman makes for herself and her family reverberate throughout her entire life. It affects her marriage patterns, her educational attainment, labor force participation and her earnings.” 

Much of the House debate on Tuesday revolved around debunking claims made by Democrats. Republican legislators denounced the legislation’s label as a “ban” and touted the $160 million in funding for childcare and foster care — something Democrats state they have been trying to pass for years.

Republican leaders accused their Democratic colleagues of being motivated only by campaign contributions from Planned Parenthood and influence from the “abortion industry.”

During the House debate, many of the bill’s sponsors declined to answer questions from those across the aisle. Lee was one of the few exceptions, yielding to a question on if the government should be collecting personal information on women that choose to have an abortion. 

One of the bill’s provisions includes information about those who have abortions to be sent to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

“They’re trying to gather data, not specific to individuals, but to gather data on when [abortion’s] being used, how it’s being used, what the complications are,” Lee said. 

He noted mifepristone, the drug used to induce an abortion, could be distributed to women across the state that may not realize the risk if they do not meet with a physician.

Lee was also asked to define a life-threatening condition that would allow an abortion to be performed post-first trimester. He responded the decision would be left with the physician, but did not specify if those decisions would be checked against a list of qualifying conditions. 

The bill is effective July 1. 

It stipulates anyone seeking an abortion is required to: 

  • Attend two in-person appointments, 72 hours apart 
  • Shedule a follow-up appointment, yet no one will be penalized if the patient does not show 
  • View an ultrasound of the fetus and listen to its heart beat before an abortion 
  • Patients are not required to report incidents of rape or incent to law enforcement

Physicians that conduct abortions must: 

  • Perform then in a hospital; medication used in abortions cannot be mailed
  • Provide more information to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services on abortion procedures, including probable gestational age of the fetus at the time the procedure, fetus measurements and an ultrasound image of the fetus

The governor released a statement after the measure passed Tuesday evening: 

“North Carolinians now understand that Republicans are unified in their assault on women’s reproductive freedom and we are energized to fight back on this and other critical issues facing our state. I will continue doing everything I can to protect abortion access in North Carolina because women’s lives depend on it.”

Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com.

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