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In a 6 to 3 decision on June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, reversing the court's 50-year-old decision that guaranteed a woman's right to obtain an abortion. The court's action also set off trigger laws that banned or severely restricted abortions in some states and prompted protests across the country.

NC House passes new abortion restrictions amid protests

Hundreds of abortion rights supporters held a rally in Raleigh on Wednesday, May 3, 2023, against new abortion restrictions proposed by state Republicans.
Colin Campbell
Hundreds of abortion rights supporters held a rally in Raleigh on Wednesday, May 3, 2023, against new abortion restrictions proposed by state Republicans.

The state House voted 71-46 along party lines late Wednesday night to pass proposed new abortion restrictions, with all Democrats opposing the measure. Final votes in the House and Senate are expected on Thursday morning.

Current state law bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with few exceptions after that point. The new proposal would ban abortions after 12 weeks, with exceptions for rape, incest, fetal anomalies, and threats to the life of the mother. It's a somewhat less restrictive approach than some other GOP-led states have taken on the issue.

House Democrats complained that the vote — held shortly before 10 p.m. Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the bill was released — was rushed, and they sought unsuccessfully to drop the bill from the agenda. Some lodged a ceremonial "constitutional protest" against the bill.

The WUNC Politics Podcast is a free-flowing discussion of what we're hearing in the back hallways of the General Assembly and on the campaign trail across North Carolina.

Hundreds of protesters attended a rally across the street from the Legislative Building ahead of Wednesday’s vote. Democratic Party leaders, like North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein and U.S. Rep. Deborah Ross, told the crowd that the 12-week ban is just a first step for the GOP majority.

“This Republican legislature will keep coming, and keep coming, until they have completely and totally banned abortion and taken away our freedom and our power. But friends, we will not let them,” Stein said. He pointed to his likely opponent in next year’s race for governor, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who has advocated for a total ban with no exceptions.

The protesters headed to the House chamber gallery after the rally to watch the vote, forming a line that wrapped around the building to go through the legislature’s security checkpoint. Speakers at the rally called on the group to take action in next year’s election.

“We need more anger, we need more protest, we need more people coming out. So I want everyone to tell your neighbors, your friends, that they need to get down here,” Rep. Julie von Haefen, D-Wake, told the crowd.

Opponents of abortion spoke during a brief public comment period on the bill Wednesday morning. Some said the 12-week ban was less restrictive than they wanted.

“Quite honestly, this bill is not what we had hoped for,” said John Rustin with the N.C. Family Policy Council. “It's not what we had prayed for. … The reality is that this bill is a significant improvement over our current law. It will save thousands of lives every year. It will provide critical support to women and families facing unplanned and crisis pregnancies.”

Sen. Vickie Sawyer, R-Iredell, says she’s heard opponents’ concerns. “I am confident that this is the best piece of compromise, mainstream legislation that we could put forward,” she said.

But some medical professionals who spoke in committee Wednesday said the regulations in the bill would make it difficult for many vulnerable people to access abortions.

“I can tell you that I see patients every day that are not protected by this bill — the 15-year-old who has unstable housing, who can't make an in-person visit … or the patient who has four kids already, who's the 1% whose birth control failed, and can't get child care to be seen in person for her consent, or for her medically unnecessary medication abortion follow-up,” said Dr. Abby Schultz, a Durham OB-GYN.

Gov. Roy Cooper said Wednesday that he’ll veto the bill, saying it’s an “extreme ban and he “needs everyone’s help to hold it.” But Republicans say their members are united in support of the measure, which would be enough to override a veto. Rep. Tricia Cotham, R-Mecklenburg, who recently switched parties and had previous opposed abortion restrictions, was among the House Republicans voting yes.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.