Lynn Bonner, NC Newsline
A crowd cheered Gov. Roy Cooper as he vetoed a Republican-authored abortion ban in an unusual rally that capped off a week of attempts to pressure a small group of GOP legislators into letting the veto stand.
Some bills are signed in public ceremonies, but bill vetoes don’t usually draw enthusiastic audiences.
For Senate Bill 20, though, reproductive rights supporters from around the state gathered in an outdoor corridor between the state Capitol and the state Legislative Building to cheer and applaud Cooper as he read his veto message and applied the veto stamp.
“When women’s health is on the line, I will never back down,” Cooper said. “And I know you won’t either.”
Attendees at the Saturday rally were encouraged to flood Republican legislators with calls and emails asking them to sustain the veto.
Republicans have a veto-proof majority in the House and Senate, and they passed the 12-week abortion ban along party lines. Cooper concentrated his pressure campaign on Reps. John Bradford and Tricia Cotham of Mecklenburg County, and New Hanover legislators Ted Davis in the House and Michael Lee in the Senate.
In a statement after the rally, Senate leader Phil Berger said Cooper had been “bullying members of the General Assembly.”
“I look forward to promptly overriding his veto,” the statement said.
A few dozen people attended a counter-protest in front of the Legislative Building across the street from the much larger veto rally. A woman with a bullhorn shouted across the street to abortion-rights supporters. “Your mom chose life.” “Protection at conception.”
The bill would allow abortions up to 12 weeks, but adds new hurdles to getting them. The 72-hour pre-abortion counseling would have to be done in person. Counseling by telephone would no longer be allowed.
As is currently law, a person who takes abortion pills must take the first pill in the presence of a doctor. A new requirement would have doctors schedule follow-up appointments for those patients.
Abortion pills are the most-used abortion method in the state.
The FDA does not consider any of these requirements to be medically necessary.
All abortions after 12 weeks would have to be done in hospitals.
The bill would try to crack down on self-managed abortions by prohibiting mailing abortion pills directly to pregnant women.
Abortion clinics would have to meet new licensing requirements. In debates, Republican legislators said the clinics would have to meet requirements for ambulatory surgical centers. Planned Parenthood South Atlantic said none of their clinics now meets those requirements.
Abortions in cases of rape or incest would be allowed up to 20 weeks, would be allowed up to 24 weeks in cases of “life-limiting fetal anomalies,” and would be allowed at any time in medical emergencies.
Current law prohibits abortions after 20 weeks, with exceptions for medical emergencies.
Republicans discussed the details of their bill for the first time the evening of Tuesday, May 2. The bill text was made public at about 10:00 that night. Republicans introduced the bill in a form where it could not be amended. The House and Senate approved the bill within two days.
Cooper mocked Republicans calling the bill a “mainstream compromise.”
“Mainstream bills don’t get written in secret, kept under lock and key, introduced in the dark of night, kept from public input, protected from any amendments, and then get rammed though in less than 48 hours. Which, by the way, is shorter than the mandatory 72 hours they make women wait for health care.”
Janice Robinson of Charlotte said she was disheartened by the way Republicans passed the bill.
“It’s just so heartbreaking, the lack of ethics, integrity,” she said. Robinson is state program director for a group aimed at stoking suburban women’s interest in political issues.
Mecklenburg supporters of reproductive rights are “pulling out all the stops,” to convince the two Republican House members in that county, Bradford and Cotham, to uphold the veto.
Cotham was a Democrat who just last year expressed her strong support for abortion rights. She became a Republican last month in a party switch that gave the House GOP a veto-proof majority.
Bradford was quoted in Axios Charlotte last year saying he supported the current abortion law.
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” Robinson said. “Prayers are being prayed, so we’ll see.”
Annie Gentithes of Durham attended the rally with her daughter, Ruby.
Gentithes held a sign with late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s picture on it, and talked about fighting to hold on to rights.
“We’ve been here before,” she said. “This is a fight so many people, so many important women and men have been fighting for a long time and it’s sort of stunning that we’re in this place again,” she said.
“But, I’m here to show up like my mom showed up, and I have my daughter. It’s a fight worth fighting. Abortion is health care.”
The NC Medical Society opposes the bill, saying it interferes with the doctor-patient relationship, and that its complex set of regulations are not evidence-based and will impede access to medical care.
Noting the opposition from doctors’ groups, Cooper said, “How about leave the medicine to the doctors and the decisions to the women.”
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