The Fight for Reproductive Freedom Begins Again in NC

Spectators observe from the gallery of the House chamber during a floor debate about proposed abortion restrictions at the General Assembly in Raleigh, N.C. in 2013. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

By Michael McElroy

March 31, 2023

Three GOP lawmakers introduced a bill this week banning abortion at conception. Though it’s unlikely to get a vote as written, it is the opening salvo in what’s expected to be a fierce fight to drastically restrict abortion access here.

North Carolina Republicans introduced a bill this week that would ban abortions in the state from the moment of conception, a move that health professionals and reproductive rights groups have long warned about.

While this specific bill is unlikely to be put to a vote as is, it is the opening salvo in what is expected to be a fierce fight from Republicans to drastically restrict abortion access beyond the current 20-week ban.

Any ban, nearly all doctors and medical experts say, is dangerous to the mother and creates a chaotic healthcare system that leaves doctors afraid to respond in an emergency, threatens maternal care in rural hospitals and discourages new doctors from moving to the state.

The bill, House Bill 533, would make it a felony for anyone to “perform, induce or attempt” an abortion at any stage of the pregnancy, though it does spell out specific exceptions for miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies and other threats to “the life of the mother.”

Healthcare professionals, however, are also nearly unanimous in warning that there are no legislative exceptions that can anticipate the range of unexpected developments in a given pregnancy. That means that doctors in states already with outright bans have been hesitant to give life-saving care for fear of losing their license or facing criminal prosecution, even when there are “life of the mother” exceptions in the state’s law.

HB 533, for example, allows for “reasonable medical judgment” from a “reasonably prudent physician knowledgeable about a [given] case.” But it does not say who defines reasonable, meaning a prosecutor would be in a position to decide what, ultimately, was a legitimate threat to a doctor’s patient. 

This environment, a group of more than 1,100 North Carolina health officials told lawmakers in February, threatens doctors’ livelihoods and their patients’ lives.

“There is no way to safely implement a ban on abortion at any gestational age without harming women and the people who love them,” Dr. Alison Stuebe, a physician who cares for high-risk pregnancies, said in a news conference last month.

HR 533 was introduced by Reps. Keith Kidwell, (Beaufort,  Dare,  Hyde,  Pamlico Cos) Ben Moss, (Moore, Richmond Cos) and Edward Goodwin, (Chowan, Currituck, Dare and other counties). 

(Reps. Kidwell, Moss and Goodwin were also among a larger group of sponsors of the Medical Freedom Act, a bill that says it is up to the individual whether they want to get a vaccine that would help protect themselves and their community.)

Though the vast majority of Republicans in the NC legislature support more abortion restrictions, a full ban is unlikely to ever get a vote.

Republicans have been working in private to decide on a formal bill, ranging from a 6-week ban to a first-trimester ban, and GOP leadership distanced themselves from HR 533 and a conception ban after it was introduced.

“HB 533 does not reflect the work of the working group or the consensus product we expect to emerge from those discussions,” Demi Dowdy, a spokesperson for House Speaker Tim Moore told the News and Observer on Thursday. 

An Unpopular Proposal 

Democrats, however, were united in their objections and alarm.

House Democratic Leader Rep. Robert Reives, (Chatham Co) told us on Thursday that though he had not yet read the bill closely, a ban starting at conception would be a non-starter with his party and the state as a whole.

“Obviously there’s nobody on the Democratic side that I believe would support that,” Reives said, and “I don’t believe that the majority of North Carolinians would support that.”

He’s right. Poll after poll after poll show that North Carolinians widely reject increasing abortion restrictions, especially banning it outright. 

And because the majority of the legislature, “is a bunch of men,” he added, “I just struggle with us making those decisions.”

Because beyond the very real health and medical consequences associated with abortion restrictions, they are at their root an attack on reproductive freedom and autonomy.

“Women’s History Month is coming to an end,” Rep. Diamond Staton-Williams (Cabarrus) wrote on Twitter after the bill was introduced, “and it’s been painfully obvious in the legislative building this week.”

In addition to pushing through legislation that will make it easier for domestic abusers to buy a handgun, lawmakers “also decided women needed legislators making their healthcare decisions for them,” she wrote.

“And despite the fact that my colleagues trust domestic abusers with guns, they cannot find it in them to trust women and doctors with healthcare decisions,” she added.

“Women will be paying the price for this reckless legislation.”


  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.

CATEGORIES: Uncategorized


Local News

Related Stories
Share This