The North Carolina legislature has passed a nightmare 12-week abortion ban, a move that was made possible thanks to a former Democratic representative switching parties and that will destroy abortion access in the South.
The bill passed the Republican-controlled Senate by a vote of 29–20 Thursday, along party lines. It was rushed through the House close to midnight the night before, again along party lines. Democratic Governor Roy Cooper has vowed to veto the measure, but the GOP has a veto-proof majority since Representative Tricia Cotham switched her party affiliation to Republican a month ago.* While she previously billed herself as pro-abortion, she spoke in favor of the abortion ban during the debate Thursday.
When the final vote was announced, following five grueling hours of debate, protesters who had packed the gallery broke into chants of “Abortion rights now!” and “Shame!” Security cleared them out.
The measure technically bans abortion after 12 weeks, but in reality, the window could be much shorter. People would also only be allowed to get a medication abortion until 10 weeks of pregnancy, and to get one, they would have to go to three separate, in-person appointments that are 72 hours apart.
Abortions are allowed up to 24 weeks if the fetus has a “life-limiting anomaly,” but the anomaly must be “uniformly diagnosable” even though such defects are rarely so clear-cut. Doctors also have to tell patients that such anomalies do result in live births with “unpredictable and variable lengths of life,” meaning they will have to try to convince patients to carry the pregnancy to term if there’s a chance the baby will live—even if only for a few moments.
The bill mandates that the legislature would have to appoint a rules commission to overhaul abortion clinic regulations by October. New rules could potentially force clinics to undergo costly (and unnecessary) changes, temporarily or even permanently shutting them down if they are unable to comply. It would also require health care providers to care for infants “born alive”—which health experts agree rarely occurs and could negatively impact post-birth care—and could restrict access to abortion based on a patient’s reason for wanting one.
“This bill … tells girls and women that our bodies do not belong to us. It tells men the same thing,” said Democratic Senator Lisa Grafstein. “Our democracy doesn’t belong to women any more than our bodies do.”
Republicans rushed the bill through the state legislature. Rather than introduce a fresh bill, they gutted an unrelated measure on child safety and then inserted 46 pages of abortion restrictions. They unveiled the text Wednesday night, giving lawmakers less than 11 hours to read it before it went to committee hearing. Instead of going through a traditional (lengthy) committee process, Republicans added the bill as a conference report, allowing them to go right to a vote.
“Why can’t this bill, if you think it’s so great, stand up to normal scrutiny?” asked Democratic Senator Natasha Marcus. “Are you afraid the public will see what you’re doing?”
North Carolina currently allows abortion up to 21 weeks, which has made it a haven for the procedure in the southern U.S. The combination of this bill and the hugely unpopular six-week ban recently signed in Florida will decimate access to abortion in the South.
* This article originally misstated Tricia Cotham’s title.