Editorial: For Republicans, NC’s 12-week abortion ban might just be the first step

Tribune Content Agency

North Carolina Republicans just passed a 12-week abortion ban, but their recent comments suggest this might just be a first step in a long-term plan.

Because although they are calling the legislation a “compromise,” what that means is that it’s a compromise among themselves. GOP leaders said when introducing the bill that — after months of internal deliberations — they’d landed on a 12-week ban because that was what would get enough votes to successfully override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto. In order to become law, every single Republican in the legislature needed to be on board.

But what could happen when there’s enough room for disagreement? That could change in the next couple of years, especially if the 2024 elections play out in the GOP’s favor.

After the veto override vote occurred earlier this month, Republican leaders were asked about the potential for new abortion restrictions in the future.

According to House Speaker Tim Moore, there won’t be any more abortion legislation this session, but he “can’t say” what might happen in the future. Senate leader Phil Berger said he thinks the legislature “ended up in a good place for where we are right now.”

That doesn’t sound like a party dead-set on stopping at just 12 weeks. It sounds like a party that’s leaving the door open to going even further.

After a recent court decision, legislators will soon be drawing new state House and Senate maps that will be used in the 2024 election. Those maps could help Republicans win even more seats in the legislature, and those new members could determine whether lawmakers have the votes to further legislate abortion.

If a Republican wins the governorship, however, lawmakers wouldn’t have to worry about a veto at all — they could pass new legislation with just a simple majority vote. Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson and former Rep. Mark Walker, two of the GOP candidates for governor in 2024, have expressed a desire to further restrict North Carolina’s abortion laws if elected.

Robinson said earlier this year that if he were governor and had a “willing legislature,” he would want to pass a law that makes abortion illegal “for any reason.” He has since adjusted his stance — slightly — saying he supports “common-sense legislation” that prohibits abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. He has also attempted to dodge the issue, though, telling WFAE that he is “not interested in talking about abortion anymore.”

That doesn’t mean he’s abandoned the issue, though — it just depends who he’s talking to. In a recent interview on conservative radio, Robinson said the new 12-week ban “gives ourselves the opportunity to set ourselves up to get ready to continue to move the ball.”

Walker, meanwhile, said in a recent TV interview that he likes to think of the new bill as a “first step.”

There are plenty of Republicans in the legislature who would have liked to see the 12-week ban be stricter. Moore has said that he personally supports a six-week ban, and a small group of Republicans introduced a total ban in the House earlier this year. One of the bill’s sponsors told WRAL earlier this month that lawmakers “want to make slow and incremental changes over time.”

And there’s still plenty of political pressure to restrict abortion further. Many of the same pro-life groups who encouraged Republicans to pass a new abortion law in the first place aren’t satisfied with just a 12-week ban.

The N.C. Values Coalition released a statement after the veto override vote calling it the “first real step toward becoming a pro-life state.” North Carolina Right to Life said the “abortion tragedy in North Carolina has not been solved and we will continue to work for life until these babies are safe as well.”

And a 12-week ban, while still extreme, makes North Carolina an outlier among most states in the Southeast. A six-week abortion ban recently cleared the South Carolina legislature, though it’s expected to be challenged in court. States like Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi have complete bans on abortion with little to no exceptions. Republicans could attempt to justify further restrictions by comparing North Carolina to its neighbors.

Regardless, abortion will be one of the biggest issues on the ballot in 2024, just as it was in 2022. But North Carolina’s new 12-week law is already unpopular with voters. Republicans should be careful about going any further.