North Carolina

As abortion bills advance nationwide, where does NC’s ‘born alive’ bill stand?

Pro-life rally urges N.C. House to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of Senate Bill 359

A group of about 200 people gathered near the Legislative Building Tuesday evening to urge members of the N.C. House follow their state Senate counterparts and override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of Senate Bill 359.
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A group of about 200 people gathered near the Legislative Building Tuesday evening to urge members of the N.C. House follow their state Senate counterparts and override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of Senate Bill 359.

As anti-abortion legislation is advancing across the country, a related bill is stalled in North Carolina.

Alabama on Tuesday was the latest of several states this year to advance new abortion legislation. Alabama’s bill, when it takes effect in six months, would make performing an abortion a felony at any stage of pregnancy, with almost no exceptions. Sixteen states have passed bans or are considering bans on abortion at about six weeks, the Washington Post has reported. Alabama’s bill would be the most restrictive in the country.

In North Carolina, a federal court earlier this year struck down the state’s ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. State lawmakers haven’t addressed that bill yet.

But they did introduce the “Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” which aims to address what happens when abortions fail.

The GOP-sponsored bill, SB 359, instructs medical professionals to care specifically for newborns who survive an abortion. It would enact new punishments for physicians and nurses who don’t comply with the law or who fail to report noncompliance. They could face felony charges, prison time and up to $250,000 in fines.

Democrats say the bill would bring more bureaucracy into complicated medical situations and discourage abortions that are medically necessary. Republicans, though, say the rules are needed to hold doctors accountable and protect infants’ lives.

The bill faces obstacles to becoming law, but isn’t dead. Here’s the situation:

Where it stands

North Carolina’s GOP-majority legislature passed the bill earlier this year, but Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed it on April 18.

As of today, the veto still stands. And the microscope is on the state House.

To override Cooper, the state House and state Senate each need three-fifths of their present members to support the idea. Republicans don’t have enough votes to override Cooper’s veto on their own, so they’re relying on Democrats.

The N.C. Senate on April 30 voted to override Cooper’s veto. The effort succeeded by one vote, with Pitt County’s Don Davis as the lone Democrat to vote with Republicans.

It’s unclear when the House will vote.

“The House is just returning to business today after a break following budget and crossover weeks,” Joseph Kyzer, a spokesman for House Speaker Tim Moore, told McClatchy in an email. “A veto override of the bipartisan post-birth abortion ban will be under consideration as we move forward with this session.”

How it could pass

The House could pass the bill if enough Democrats choose to support it, if enough opponents are absent when a vote is taken — or a combination of both scenarios.

If Davis’ defection is any indication, Republicans could target Democrats in rural districts, said Andrew Taylor, a political science professor at N.C. State University. Members of the black caucus also may lean more conservative on abortion and be willing to negotiate, Taylor said. He noted Reps. Terry Garrison of Vance County, Raymond Smith of Wayne County and Garland Pierce of Scotland County as potential GOP targets.

“Pierce is a whip, but also voted for HB2 and is a Baptist minister,” Taylor said, referring to the controversial bathroom law that was later repealed. “If the approach is to promise members things in the budget, then it’s possible there are other targets.”

The NC Values Coalition, a conservative anti-abortion advocacy group, has had conversations with “several Democratic lawmakers who are conflicted over voting to override Governor Cooper’s veto,” Tami Fitzgerald, the group’s executive director, told McClatchy in an email.

It will likely be an uphill battle if House members fear the type of political backlash Davis now faces. After the Senate’s vote, Lillian’s List, Planned Parenthood and several other groups announced their intentions to recruit a Democrat to challenge Davis in his primary.

The ‘veto garage’

Republicans could also wait until several Democrats are absent to call for a vote. This practice is known as putting a bill in the “veto garage.”

A veto override may appear on a chamber’s agenda for weeks or months — but go unaddressed. Then, when several legislators from the minority party are absent, chamber leaders will call for a vote.

There’s certainly precedent for this tactic. In 2015, Speaker Moore waited until 10 members were absent to override Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto of a bill allowing magistrates to opt out of officiating same-sex marriages, as McClatchy and WTVD reported.

Democrats have tried in recent years to shorten the veto override period, but their efforts failed.

In this case, the House can vote to override Cooper’s veto at any time before sine die adjournment in 2020, for which there’s no set date.

Paul “Andy” Specht reports on North Carolina leaders and state politics for The News & Observer and PolitiFact. Specht previously covered Raleigh City Hall and town governments around the Triangle. He’s a Raleigh native who graduated from Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C. Contact him at aspecht@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4870.
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