Opinion: NC’s new abortion law is about polls, not beliefs

Photo/Kate Medley/The New York Times / Gov. Roy Cooper appears at a “veto rally” in Raleigh, N.C., on May 12, 2023. Republican legislators in North Carolinas state Senate voted to advance a ban on most abortions after 12 weeks, overriding their Democratic governors recent veto of the new restrictions.

When you consider North Carolina's new abortion law, what's striking isn't that it limits access to abortion from 20 weeks to 12 weeks, but that it allows abortion at all.

How is it that Republican lawmakers who see abortion as murder can allow it within the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy? A life cannot be a little less alive any more than a person can be a little bit pregnant.

Some who believe life begins at conception do not support abortion personally, but they believe the choice should be made by the pregnant individual before a fetus' viability. Many supporters of tighter abortion restrictions think legislators should protect the fetus as soon as a pregnancy can be known.

The latter view is the conundrum at the center of the North Carolina law and all efforts to limit abortion since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Those who oppose abortion as the unacceptable taking of a life at any stage have no room to endorse compromise. They have to support banning abortion.

That's what Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson says. He's the leading Republican candidate for governor in 2024. Appearing on Republican state Rep. Jeffrey McNeely's WSIC radio show, Robinson said, "If I had all the power right now, say I was the governor with a willing legislature, we could pass a bill saying, 'You can't have an abortion in North Carolina for any reason.'"

Republicans don't have the governorship, but they have a veto-proof majority. They didn't go Robinson's way because they don't have a "willing" legislature for his kind of clarity. House Bill 533 proposed a total abortion ban, but it never got a hearing. Instead, Republican lawmakers retreated into private meetings in which they weighed the viability of a fetus against their political vulnerability.

What emerged from this secretive process was a lengthy bill that contradicts the belief that inspired it. It says abortion is OK up to 12 weeks. After that, it's an abomination. Republicans restricted abortion as far as they could without exposing themselves to defeat (a calculation they appear to have bungled).

Dr. William Pincus, president of North Carolina Right to Life, told me that the new law, created by a one-vote override of Gov. Roy Cooper's veto, won't do much to end abortion. "Ninety percent of abortions occur before 12 weeks, It really doesn't protect very many babies in North Carolina," he said. "Many abortions that might have occurred after 12 weeks will just move up to before 12 weeks."

Pincus, an ear, nose and throat doctor in High Point, supports abortions in cases involving rape, incest, danger to the pregnant woman's life or severe abnormalities in the fetus, or, as he prefers to say, the unborn child. Otherwise, he and his group want to see abortion banned.

"With the passage of this bill, North Carolina has taken some steps to protect some babies, but there's still a lot more to do," he said.

Gillian Frank, a fellow at Princeton's Center for Culture, Society and Religion, said abortion abolitionists are unlikely to achieve a ban, particularly in purple states such as North Carolina. The obstacle, he said, isn't pro-choice advocates but Republican voters who support abortion rights to varying degrees.

The North Carolina law, he said, appears to be an attempt to circumvent that obstacle. It appeases strong abortion opponents without alienating otherwise conservative voters who take a more moderate view on abortion access. But the political calculation that settles on a 12-week ban can lead to complications, Frank said.

"When you get into second and trimester abortions, most of those pregnancies were wanted," he said, "but some sort of tragedy, usually medical in nature, has occurred." He said the new law will end compounding medical emergencies among people who wanted to have a child.

Republican lawmakers approved a law based on polls, not their supposed convictions. It exposes the phoniness of the whole exercise.

The Raleigh News & Observer