After Roe, what's next for abortion in North Carolina? A UNC professor explains.
North Carolina is one of the least-restrictive states in the south when it comes to abortion – with no outright bans in effect. WHRO spoke to University of North Carolina law professor Maxine Eichner about where the state sits – and what might change.
Laura Philion: First, I'd like to get a handle on the national-level legislation. The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act was introduced by North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis. What's his intent and how does it fit with other federal abortion legislation?
Maxine Eichner: What the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act is doing is trying to codify the Hyde Amendment, which has been in place for, well, almost 50 years, barring federal funding for abortion. Obviously the issue has gotten significantly more controversial with the Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs. So I think they are trying to make that ban permanent, given that once it's passed, it will be much harder to revoke than having to put the new ban in place every year. Of course, the chances that it will pass or any new restrictions on abortion will pass in this Congress are close to nil, given that the Senate is controlled by Democrats at this point who would stand united on the issue. And not to mention we have a Democratic President who could veto that legislation.
Laura Philion: With Republicans going on the offensive after the overturning of Roe, what's their next move?
Maxine Eichner: Well, I'm sure you saw that the national Republican Party announced that they wanted to double down on pushing anti-choice legislation. With that said, I think what we've seen since Dobbs is Republicans having to grapple with the real world effects of restricting abortion, you know, in an era in which the protection for abortion is no longer constitutionalized . So it's no longer just a galvanizing issue for their base, but it's having real world effects. And what we've seen since Dobbs is there, you know, a significant majority of the population favors access to abortion and will vote on that issue. So even though we see the national Republican Party and the Republican base doubling down on this, we've also seen efforts to recalibrate by the Republicans who are paying more attention to the electoral consequences of this issue. So I'm sure you saw that Blake Masters in his Senate race scrubbed his website of his staunch opposition to abortion, and other Republican legislators have started to soften those positions. We've seen some of the same attempts at recalibrating by Republicans who are paying attention to the ballot box in North Carolina, where, although some Republicans are calling for what we might call heartbeat legislation, which is legislation that would restrict abortion after six or so weeks, we have other leaders, other Republican leaders in the legislature who are talking more about paring back the right to abortion, but paring it back relatively later than heartbeat legislation. So to 13 weeks or so. So pushing for more moderate restrictions on abortion than we would have seen from Republican legislators before Dobbs was issued.
Laura Philion: On the state level, North Carolina's legislative chambers are both GOP-controlled. Do they have the numbers to pass a ban over Democrat Governor Roy Cooper?
Maxine Eichner: So right now, I think the answer is likely that it would be difficult to get legislation pushed through. Although we have a veto-proof majority in the Senate, we're one vote short of a veto-proof majority in the House. And Democrats at this point are likely to vote in tandem on the issue of abortion legislation. And of course, Roy Cooper has vowed that he would veto any legislation that came through that restricted abortion. With that said, you know, one vote is not very much. And the House speaker Ted Moore recently changed the way votes can be held and the notice required for a vote ... Last month the leadership of the House changed the rules about when a vote could be announced and now can be announced at the last minute. And some members of the House suspected that the reason for that rule change -- when there's always been several days of announcement, several days notice required -- the reason for that change is to allow a vote to be called to override a veto when, for example, a Democratic member of the House went to the bathroom. So at this point, I certainly don't think we can say for sure that the Republicans could not override a veto in North Carolina. At this point, though they likely wouldn't be expected to have the votes. But if something unexpected happened, they might be able to pull it off.
Laura Philion: North Carolina has a Democratic governor who vowed to veto any abortion restrictions. Next door neighbor Virginia has a Republican governor who wants to restrict abortion access. How important are governors to state decisions?
Maxine Eichner: Our governor is certainly pro-choice and has done what he could as a governor and would certainly strike down anti-abortion legislation. I don't know that I would say that we have staunch pro-choice support in both chambers of the General Assembly, and I don't know if they would say that they are taking orders from him. But everybody, I think, is on the same page that the right to abortion access should be preserved in North Carolina and even strengthened.
Laura Philion: North Carolina currently bans abortions after 20 weeks and six days. Is there legislation coming up to a vote on restricting that further or lightening that ban?
Maxine Eichner: Democrats in the General Assembly have been pushing legislation that would essentially codify Roe, you know, what had been the protections of Roe before the Dobbs decision. Republicans have been a little vaguer on this issue, which I think comes from the kind of recalibration I've been talking about. We've heard from Senate leaders recently that they would be filing bills to pare back abortions before 20 weeks, but they haven't really pinned down the specifics of that. Some of them have talked about heartbeat legislation. Some of them have talked about -- I think our House speaker, Tim Moore, recently talked about a ban on abortion after the first trimester. You know, our Senate leader, Phil Berger, has spoken to some extent about paring back the 20 weeks, being a little bit vague, but talks about maybe doing something at six weeks. And so we don't have real specifics coming out of the Republicans yet. But I think there will be no doubt that they'll try to pare abortion back. But beyond that 20-week limit now.
Laura Philion: Do supporters have the numbers to put that into effect?
Maxine Eichner: So enough to pass the first time around I would suspect. And will then have a veto by the governor. And the question is, will they, with that, be able to pull off a veto override? And there I think it's anybody's guess. Nobody would say that the Republican leaders in the General Assembly have been confined by past norms of behavior. I think anything is possible.