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NC Democrats pitch abortion safeguards despite GOP majority

Marlas Yvonne Whitley joins a crowd of protestors on Friday in downtown Raleigh, N.C., to demonstrate in opposition to the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade.
Kate Medley
for WUNC
Marlas Yvonne Whitley joins a crowd of protestors on Friday in downtown Raleigh, N.C., to demonstrate in opposition to the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade.

North Carolina Democrats, who narrowly held off a Republican supermajority in the General Assembly, have introduced legislation to codify abortion protections into state law as Republicans are discussing early prospects for further restrictions.

Their legislation, filed Wednesday in both chambers, would prohibit the state from imposing barriers that might restrict a patient's ability to choose whether to terminate a pregnancy before fetal viability, which typically falls between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy.

Current state law bans nearly all abortions after 20 weeks, with narrow exceptions for urgent medical emergencies that do not include rape or incest.

Prospects for a hearing on the House or Senate version seem remote in a legislature where the Republican leaders are looking to further restrict abortion access in light of their midterm election gains and the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that eliminated federal abortion protections last June.

House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters on Wednesday that he didn’t expect the Democrats' bill to get considered. Republicans hold majorities in his chamber’s policy committees.

Lawmakers “certainly have a right to file the bill,” Moore said. “It’ll be assigned to a committee. And if a majority of that committee wants to take it up, they will. But I don’t anticipate a majority would want to take that bill up.”

Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, a Wake County Democrat, told reporters Thursday that bill makes clear his party's position, and its unlikelihood was not a deterrent.

"It’s not unlike a lot of bills around this place to not (be) considered — it’s the idea that’s important," said Blue, one of the bill's primary sponsors. “This is an important idea whose time has come, and it’s not going to go crawl under a rock or bury its head because the speaker says the bill won’t be considered."

Moore suggested earlier this month that some support was emerging in his chamber for a proposal backed by Senate leader Phil Berger to prohibit abortions after the first trimester — 12 or 13 weeks of pregnancy — with new exceptions for rape and incest.

Republicans are one seat shy of a veto-proof supermajority and would need some Democratic support to override Gov. Roy Cooper's likely veto on further restrictions. House Minority Leader Robert Reives, of Chatham County, told reporters he is not concerned that Democrats would side with Republicans in an abortion-related override vote.

Sen. Sydney Batch, a Wake County Democrat, said Democrats are not willing to compromise on restrictions beyond the current 20 weeks.

“This is our baseline," Batch said Thursday. "If Republicans want to negotiate with us, they can come to our doors — they're always open. We can talk about this being the floor and then us improving it. But going down is not what we're here for."

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