A controversial abortion bill has been sent to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who must now decide whether he will veto it.
(UPDATE: Cooper announced on Thursday he vetoed the bill. Read more here. The previous article continues below.)
The N.C. House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 359, called the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” by a vote of 65-46 on Tuesday. It previously cleared the Senate on Monday, in a 28-19 vote. If Cooper does veto the bill, Republicans will need some Democratic lawmakers to side with them to override the veto, since the Republican-led legislature lost its veto-proof supermajority in the 2018 elections.
A spokesman for Cooper, Ford Porter, criticized the bill Tuesday.
“This unnecessary legislation would criminalize doctors for a practice that simply does not exist,” he said. “Laws already exist to protect newborn babies and legislators should instead be focused on other issues like expanding access to health care to help children thrive.”
The main controversy behind the “abortion survivors” bill is over what exactly it is intended to do. Republicans say that if any babies survive an abortion procedure, the law will help the state punish doctors or nurses who kill them after they’re born.
“I can attest to the fact that infanticide has happened here in NC,” said Rep. Pat McElraft, a Republican from Carteret County. “I’ve been witness to the result of those late-term abortions.”
McElraft said that several decades ago, early in her career, she worked in Jacksonville and ran across a local doctor who was known for performing abortions. She didn’t name the doctor. She said she saw preserved bodies of babies stored at his office, and that she believes some of them had survived an abortion procedure only to be drowned in saline.
“Nurses told stories of babies who were born alive and were taken by the doctor and turned face down in the saline,” McElraft said.
Killing a baby, or anyone else, is already illegal in North Carolina regardless of whether this bill passes. Opponents of the bill say it’s unnecessarily inflammatory, and that there’s no evidence of infanticide at hospitals in North Carolina. But Republican Rep. Sarah Stevens of Surry County said this bill will make sure that no one has been covering it up.
“We don’t know if it’s going on here,” Stevens said. “But what we did say is you now have a duty to report. Nurses, doctors, if you see something, you have a duty to report. And that’s a big part of this bill.”
The bill was filed on March 26, the same day a federal judge struck down as unconstitutional North Carolina’s ban on abortions after 20 weeks, which the legislature overhauled in 2015.
Democrats said the real purpose of the bill was to scare doctors away from providing abortions, or from helping women who do want to have a baby but have a complicated pregnancy, for fear that they could be charged with murder or fined $250,000 if anything goes awry. The bill also creates the possibility for civil lawsuits from the family of the baby who died.
Democratic Rep. Carla Cunningham of Mecklenburg County said that when Congress considered a similar bill recently, a national group representing obstetricians and gynecologists opposed it.
“I would simply ask you, anyone listening to this debate, who do you trust to act in a difficult medical pregnancy?” Cunningham said. “Do you trust the politicians in this room or do you trust the doctors and nurses who are trained?”
Others said the bill is nothing but a political ploy to create confusion over an emotional issue before the upcoming 2020 elections. Some questioned why the bill was only put forward now, even though Republicans have controlled the General Assembly since after the 2010 elections and gained a veto-proof supermajority after the 2012 elections.
“Do any of you really think that infanticide is legal in North Carolina today?” asked Democratic Rep. Susan Fisher of Asheville. “If so, then why didn’t you do anything to stop it in the decade you’ve had a supermajority?”