On Saturday, May 13, 2023, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper vetoed Senate Bill 20, a controversial legislation that would have banned most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy. The bill was passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly in a party-line vote, despite the opposition of abortion rights advocates and medical professionals.
Cooper announced his veto at a public rally in Raleigh, where he was joined by hundreds of supporters and anti-abortion protesters. He said the bill was unconstitutional, medically unnecessary, and harmful to women’s health and autonomy.
“This bad bill needs a veto,” he said. “It would interfere with doctors’ ability to provide quality care to their patients. It would criminalize women for making personal decisions about their own bodies. And it would undermine the fundamental right to choose that the Supreme Court has affirmed time and again.”
Cooper also urged the crowd to pressure four Republican lawmakers who had previously expressed support for abortion rights to uphold his veto and prevent an override attempt by the General Assembly. He said he had visited their districts and held roundtable discussions with local doctors and activists to highlight the negative impacts of the bill.
“If just one Republican in either the House or the Senate keeps a campaign promise to protect women’s reproductive health, we can stop this ban,” he said. “But that’s going to take every single one of you to make calls, send emails, write letters. Tell them to sustain this veto. Tell them to ask the Republican leadership to stop it.”
The bill’s sponsors and supporters, however, criticized Cooper for his veto and vowed to override it as soon as possible. They argued that the bill was a reasonable compromise that reflected the will of the majority of North Carolinians who oppose late-term abortions.
“This bill is not about banning abortion, it’s about protecting life,” said Sen. Phil Berger, the Senate leader and one of the bill’s main authors. “It’s about ensuring that unborn children who can feel pain, who can move, who have a heartbeat, are not subjected to a brutal and inhumane procedure that ends their lives.”
Berger also accused Cooper of “feeding the public lies” and “bullying” members of his own party to block the legislation. He said he was confident that the General Assembly had enough votes to override Cooper’s veto and make the bill law.
The bill would have made North Carolina one of the most restrictive states in the country when it comes to abortion access. It would have lowered the current limit of 20 weeks to 12 weeks, with exceptions for cases of rape, incest, or life-limiting fetal anomalies. It would have also required doctors to report every abortion they perform to the state Department of Health and Human Services, and imposed civil and criminal penalties for violating the law.
The bill was inspired by a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that legalized abortion nationwide in 1973. The decision gave states more authority to regulate abortion within their borders, sparking a wave of new laws across the country.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and advocacy group that supports abortion rights, 19 states have passed 33 new abortion restrictions since January 2023, including six bans on abortion at various stages of pregnancy. Some of these laws have been challenged in court and blocked by judges, while others are awaiting legal action.
North Carolina has been a haven for women seeking abortion care in the South, where many neighboring states have enacted harsher limits on the procedure. According to data from DHHS, more than 28,000 abortions were performed in North Carolina in 2022, with about 90% occurring before 13 weeks of pregnancy.
Abortion rights advocates say that if SB 20 becomes law, it would force many women to travel out of state, delay their abortions until later in pregnancy, or resort to unsafe methods to end their pregnancies. They also say that it would disproportionately affect low-income women, women of color, and rural women who face more barriers to accessing health care.
“This bill is not about protecting life, it’s about controlling women,” said Jenny Black, the CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, one of the groups that organized the rally with Cooper. “It’s about taking away our freedom and dignity. It’s about imposing one ideology on all of us.”
Black said her organization and others would continue to fight against SB 20 and any other attempts to restrict abortion rights in North Carolina. She said they would also work to elect more pro-choice candidates in next year’s midterm elections.