NC GOP Bans Abortion After 12 Weeks and Impose Other Restrictions by Overriding Gov. Cooper’s Veto

Abortion rights protesters were removed from the House gallery for shouting at lawmakers after they overrode Gov. Roy Cooper's veto of the abortion bill on Tuesday, May 16. (AP Photo/Chris Seward)

By Michael McElroy

May 16, 2023

“North Carolinians now understand that Republicans are unified in their assault on women’s reproductive freedom and we are energized to fight back,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement.

North Carolina Republicans’ 12-week abortion ban is now law.

The North Carolina House and Senate voted on party lines Tuesday evening to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of Senate Bill 20, which will go into effect on July 1.

Unlike many abortion restrictions in the South, the new law includes exceptions for the life of the mother, rape and incest, and some fetal abnormalities. But the bill also establishes new restrictions and requirements that will make it much harder for women to get an abortion during those 12 weeks or to qualify for the exceptions. 

North Carolina doctors and health experts were nearly unanimous in their opposition, saying that it will also increase maternal death rates, further strain the state’s health care system, and force nearly half of the state’s abortion clinics to close.

Nearly every major medical society in the world sees abortion bans as dangerous meddling in fundamental healthcare. And more than 1,400 medical professionals in North Carolina wrote an open letter to lawmakers in February urging them to listen to doctors and leave the state’s current law, which allows abortion up to 20 weeks, in place.

Criticism of the veto override was swift and severe.

“Strong majorities of North Carolinians don’t want right-wing politicians in the exam room,” Cooper said in a statement after the vote, “which is even more understandable today after several Republican lawmakers broke their promises to protect women’s reproductive freedom.”

He continued: “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.”

A recent Meredith College poll shows that 57% of North Carolinians support either few restrictions at all or keeping current law in place. Another 9% say abortion should be banned only after 15 weeks for a total of 66% who do not support a 12-week ban. 

In a broader view, 60% of Americans think abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

The vote was 30-20 in the Senate, no Democrats voting Yes, and zero Republicans voting No.

The vote was 72-48 in the House along similar party lines.

Several Republicans had promised their voters in the 2022 election that they would not seek to enact any more abortion restrictions. And if just one of those Republicans had voted to uphold the veto, the bill would have failed. But one proved too many.

Two of the GOP lawmakers most widely seen as gettable, Rep. Ted Davis and Rep. Tricia Cotham—who promised voters she would codify abortion rights before switching parties from Democrat to Republican in April—voted for the bill.

Cotham, who has denied interview requests from most news outlets since switching parties and had not yet explained to her constituents her new thinking or what changed, also issued a statement after the vote.

She voted for the bill, she said, because it “represents a middle ground” between those who want to ban abortion at conception, which some of her Republican colleagues wanted to do, and those who she falsely claims want to abort “a perfectly healthy child in the 40th week of pregnancy.” 

In reality, 99% of abortions take place before 20 weeks, and abortions later in pregnancy are almost always because of fetal anomalies or to preserve the life of the mother. 

Hours before the override vote, Michael Hyland, a reporter with CBS 17 News in Raleigh, asked Rep. Davis if he had decided how to vote.

“I really don’t want to comment on anything at this time,” Davis said, but added he was “still looking at the pros and cons.”

When pressed, Davis again said he didn’t want to comment.

“It’s obviously a very significant vote that matters to a lot of people,” Hyland said.

“Sir,” Davis said, “please just back off and leave me alone.”

A study taken after the fall of Roe v. Wade shows that states that have enacted similar severe abortion restrictions have experienced a 62% higher rate of maternal deaths. 

North Carolina, doctors warn, is about to join that group.


  • 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.

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