Featured photo: Supporters and opponents of the 12-week abortion ban gathered at the Legislative Building on Tuesday. (photo by Lynn Bonner)

This story was originally published by NC Newsline, by Lynn Bonner

Republican state legislators overturned Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a 12-week abortion ban Tuesday as hundreds of spectators packed the chamber galleries or watched from the hallway.

Cooper’s veto was canceled in party-line votes in both the House and Senate. The GOP has veto-proof majorities in both chambers.

Cooper dramatically vetoed Senate Bill 20 Saturday in front of a crowd of abortion-rights supporters in Raleigh. The veto rally capped a week of Cooper holding events across the state in an attempt to convince a Republican to vote to sustain the veto. He focused on two Mecklenburg Republicans, Reps. John Bradford and Tricia Cotham, as well as New Hanover Rep. Ted Davis, and New Hanover Sen. Mike Lee. 

They all voted to cancel Cooper’s veto.

In a written statement after his veto was overridden, Cooper said, “Strong majorities of North Carolinians don’t want right-wing politicians in the exam room with women and their doctors, which is even more understandable today after several Republican lawmakers broke their promises to protect women’s reproductive freedom.

“For the last two weeks, Republican sponsors of this abortion ban have strenuously argued that it is much less restrictive than we warned, so we will now do everything in our power to make sure that’s true.

“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.”

Lee talked Tuesday about how he had been targeted in last year’s campaign after writing an op-ed about abortion. His vote was in keeping with the position he expressed in that op-ed, he said. 

“No one is talking about at what point does life begin,” he said. “No one is talking about viability.”

Sen. Vickie Sawyer, an Iredell County Republican, called opposition to the bill “a smear campaign” as she denounced abortion rights supporters. 

Sen. Amy Galey, an Alamance County Republican, said the bill’s authors worked to avoid unintended consequences reported in other states. 

“A restriction with exceptions is not a ban,” she said. 

The bill bans most abortions after 12 weeks, with exceptions for rape, incest, “life-limiting fetal anomalies,” and emergencies. It erects new barriers to patients seeking abortions. For example, the required pre-abortion 72-hour counseling can no longer be done by telephone. In-person visits are required. Abortions after 12 weeks must be done in hospitals, raising the cost dramatically. The bill also seeks to crack down on self-managed abortions where people take abortion pills without seeing doctors. 

Most new restrictions are effective July 1. Rep. Sarah Stevens of Surry County called the new regulations “safeguards.”

A new licensing requirement for abortion clinics could put Planned Parenthood South Atlantic locations in the state in danger of closing, further restricting access. 

Abortion clinics should meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers, Galey said.

Current law bans abortions in the state after 20 weeks, except in emergencies. 

In the House, Republican Rep. Sarah Stevens of Surry County, said the new regulations “are not obstacles to abortion. They are safeguards.”

Rep. Amber Baker, a Winston-Salem Democrat, said Republicans “never presented any data that systems in place are harmful.”

Rep. Diamond Staton-Williams, a Democrat from Cabarrus County, said she had an abortion in 2002. She had two daughters, was in nursing school, and was using birth control. She remembered talking with her husband about how stressful life was. 

“After much consideration, thought and, of course, prayer, we decided as a family to make a decision to schedule a D&C,” which is a type of abortion. 

About 60% of women who seek abortions have children, according to the CDC.

Staton-Williams had another child, a son, in 2006.

“The doctor’s office is not big enough for the entire North Carolina House to fit in,” she said.

Rep. Julie von Haefen, a Wake Democrat, said she hated that women had to bare their souls to defend women’s rights. 

“Why do you so profoundly distrust the women of this state?” she asked. “We talk a lot in this building and in this chamber about freedom and choices. I hear all the time that we need to have the choice where to send our kids to school. We need to have the freedom to carry and own a gun. But when it comes to women and their freedom and their choices, all those concepts seem to disappear. That’s because abortion bans are really about control – the ability to control the lives and choices of others.” Rep. Julie von Haefen: “Why do you so profoundly distrust the women of this state?”

A group on Tuesday gathered outside the Senate gallery a few hours before the vote and posed with “Vote Pro-Life” signs. Winston-Salem Pastor Ron Baity, head of Return America, was leading the group. Senate leader Phil Berger introduced Baity to applause. Return America organized a trip to Raleigh.

Former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, who recently announced his candidacy for governor, was in the crowd shaking hands.

Abortion-rights supporters arrived later in the afternoon. They were the majority watching the House debate Tuesday night. As the override vote was revealed, the crowd’s chants of “Shame” echoed through the building. 

Democrats argued that the bill puts unnecessary burdens on patients and doctors, endanger women’s health, will end up forcing some women to carry pregnancies to term against their will and wellbeing. 

Sen. Gladys Robinson, a Guilford County Democrat, said the lawmakers who wrote the bill did not know of the lives of struggling, low-income women who don’t have access to healthcare. 

More people will be forced to give birth against their will, she said. 

“This is a circus and you keep riding the elephant as it circles the tent,” Robinson said. 

Sen. Natalie Marcus, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, said Republicans who voted for the bill could no longer claim to stand for small government and personal freedom. 

“Nothing else you will do, could do could erase the harm this bill will do to women and girls,” she said. “Our health, our status in society, our ability to plan our families and our careers — it undermines our ability to trust that you care about what happens to us. That you trust us to make our decisions, that you value our lives, our contributions, our humanity. This bill is a slap in the face, it is a muzzle over our mouths, and it is a straitjacket on our bodies.”

U.S. Rep. Alma Adams of Charlotte, a former state House member, denounced the abortion ban as a danger to women’s health. The maternal mortality rate in the United States is the highest among wealthy nations. The rate of pregnancy-related deaths is about three times higher for Black women in the United States than it is for white women. Adams has been a leader in Washington in seeking measures to reduce Black maternal mortality. 

The women who face the most danger from unexpected pregnancy are those who can least afford to make multiple visits to a doctor or seek care out of state, she wrote.

“Solving the maternal health crisis and saving the lives of mom should be a higher priority than forcing pregnancy on those most at risk,” her statement said.

Bonus content: Watch Rep. Diamond Staton-Williams, RN share her very personal story.

NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: [email protected]. Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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