RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – North Carolina Senate Leader Phil Berger is saying that Republicans would be guilty of “failure” if they didn’t address abortion limits during next year’s legislative session.

Berger (R-Eden), speaking with WNCN-Ch. 17 in Raleigh, said he thinks that’s one of the top issues for lawmakers next year, despite the state’s more stringent limits having only recently becoming active law.

FILE - Republican Senate leader Phil Berger speaks Aug. 24, 2021, in Raleigh, N.C. North Carolina Senate Republicans are strongly considering legislation Monday, May 23, 2022, that would expand Medicaid coverage to hundreds of thousands of additional low-income adults. (AP Photo/Bryan Anderson, file)
Republican Senate leader Phil Berger (AP Photo/Bryan Anderson, file)

The 20-week ban was reinstated by U.S. District Judge William Osteen Jr. in August, after the U.S. Supreme Court in its Boggs decision in June overturned Roe v. Wade and returned lawmaking about abortion to state control. Osteen ended a stay that had been in place since the law was passed in 1973, right after Roe was implemented.

But Berger said he doesn’t think the 20-week ban is sufficient, although it is narrower than the roughly 24-to-28-week limit that Roe had stipulated. Anti-abortion activists often misstate those limits as being open-ended.

Berger, whose District 26 includes all of Rockingham County and the northern and eastern areas of Guilford County, has said he would like to see a limit at the first trimester – that would be 12 or 13 weeks – and that he can see a pathway to implementing such a ban.

Democratic lawmakers had been concerned about this since SCOTUS acted, but they felt protected by the veto of Gov. Roy Cooper and their ability to sustain that. The state Supreme Court, too, had a Democratic majority.

But that all changed with November’s election, when Republicans gained a supermajority in the Senate, came within one vote in the House and took control of the appellate courts.

Abortion laws vary greatly from state to state, with those policies changing in more than a dozen after the Boggs decision, but polls show that the public believes there should be some access to abortion. And the issue became prominent in the election.

Outgoing state Sen. Wiley Nickel (D-Wake County) was elected to serve in the 13th Congressional District, beating out newcomer Bo Hines, who was supported by former President Donald Trump and who opposed access to abortion. Nickel said that was a factor.

“In our race we had a clear choice with a far-right extremist who was wrong on choice,” Nickel told WNCN. “And we won because of a lot of issues, but that was a main issue that drove folks to come out and vote.”

But Berger said there are sometimes extremists who won’t compromise on abortion.

“That is something that’s out there,” he told WNCN. “I would say on the outset that that would represent a failure on the part of the General Assembly if we ended up there.”

The General Assembly is scheduled to convene at noon on Jan. 11 for a regular session, and if Berger has this as a key issue going forward – right along with Medicaid expansion, which he supports but the state House has not passed – then it’s unclear how he thinks he can get the votes and who might be in his corner.

An AP-NORC Center poll finds a majority of U.S. adults feel “angry” or “sad” about the Supreme Court’s June decision to strike down Roe v. Wade, which had guaranteed abortion rights for nearly 50 years. (AP Graphic)

State Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Whitsett), the House majority whip, told WGHP that Republicans in the House “haven’t had any discussions on that [abortion] yet. There are no specific plans for the moment.”

State Rep. Ashton Clemmons (D-Greensboro), recently elected deputy leader of the House’s Democrats, said much the same thing.

“We have not had caucus meetings to discuss the next session yet, so I cannot speak for anyone else,” she said.

When the stay was lifted, Attorney General Josh Stein, who many think will be a leading Democratic candidate to succeed Cooper in 2024, said ultimately voters would have to decide how this plays out.

“Women still have a legal right to an abortion in NC under state law until 20 weeks.” Stein wrote on his Twitter feed. “If people want that right to continue to exist, they have to elect legislators who share that view.”

During the election, candidates for the state Senate and the state House addressed whether they would support a possible constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights – voters in Kansas and Kentucky voted down amendments to ban abortions – and support was almost entirely along party lines.