RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – After last-ditch pleas for delay and a change of course and more heartfelt debate, Senate Bill 20, the replacement conference bill to change abortion access in North Carolina, was passed by the House.

The passage came at the end of about six hours of a floor session that included more than 50 bills as lawmakers sought to move in an effort to attain Friday’s deadline of passing across to the Senate any bill to be considered in this long legislative session.

District 54 Rep. Robert Reives III (D-Chatham)

SB 20, the “Care for Women Children and Families Act,” as it is called, is a gutted bill that had passed into the House and was remade to alter the abortion landscape of North Carolina, tightening the window for elective abortions but retaining exceptions and adding money for a variety of related initiatives.

After a vote of 71-46, along party lines, with two absent Democrats and one absent Republican, the bill now moves to the Senate for a conference vote, where it is scheduled for a vote at 10 a.m. Thursday. If it is approved, the bill moves to the desk of Gov. Roy Cooper, who has promised he will veto the bill and asked that Republicans in the General Assembly cross over and help to uphold that veto.

State Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-Surry)

There were two bids on Wednesday night to delay the bill. One was a motion to prevent the House from taking up the measure as a conference bill and the other, sponsored by Rep. Robert Reives II (D-Chatham), the House minority leader, who asked that the bill be sent back to committee, stripped of the abortion passages and restored to its former role of safe sanctuary for unwanted children. He later pleaded for “restraint…to show love, show support, show restraint…show people of North Carolina that we love them and we trust them.”

Both failed along party lines, and Reives later rose to attack the process that provided a 46-page, GOP-written bill less than 24 hours before the vote was scheduled.

“We’ve spent a lot time talking about this,” Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-Surry), who presented the bill, told the House. “We went with a mainstream approach to this issue. We feel like we have broad support for this legislation.”

What’s in SB 20

She cited the basics of the bill, which:

  • Provides access to an elective abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, in cases of rape and incest up to 20 weeks, with no requirement for a report to law enforcement.
  • Sets abortion for a fetal, life-limiting anomaly up to 24 weeks.
  • Continues current state law that there is no exception on abortion in the case of a threat to the life of the mother.
  • Requires any abortion after the second trimester to be done in a hospital and establishes new standards for health care facilities to support abortion.
  • Guards against the Illegal distribution of abortion-inducing drugs and continues the current law that abortion-inducing drugs must be taken in the presence of a physician.
  • Maintains a 72-hour, in-person consent process.
  • Sets aside millions of dollars for childcare, mental health assistance and paid maternal/paternal leave for state employees.

There was a constitutional protest by Democrats as Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) called the vote, which brought down the gavel and caused an outcry on the floor. It was unclear what that bill really was about, although Moore noted the protest for the record.

There were outcries from the gallery, as well, but Moore plodded forward to adjourn the meeting at 9:51 p.m.

Lots of protests

Abortion rights supporters gather at a rally at Bicentennial Plaza put on by Planned Parenthood South Atlantic in response to a bill before the North Carolina Legislature, Wednesday, May 3, 2023, in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
Abortion rights supporters gather at a rally at Bicentennial Plaza put on by Planned Parenthood South Atlantic in response to a bill before the North Carolina legislature. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

All of this came after a rancorous meeting of the Joint Rules Committee on Wednesday morning, when there were many emotional and powerful protests and supporting statements about the bill from both members of the House and Senate but also the general public.

There was a Democrat-led rally outside that included Attorney General Josh Stein and Democratic members of Congress Deborah Ross and Wiley Nickel, among others. Doctors and abortion rights organizations spoke on behalf of the issue – although some physicians supported the bill during the hearing.

During the sessions inside the building, Stevens and Rep. Kristin Baker (R-Cabarrus) provided answers and explanations to various complaints and questions. Many stood and supported why this bill was the right thing to do, and others shared emotional and very personal stories as evidence that the bill was the wrong thing.

Baker, who is a psychiatrist said that “any time or any circumstance a woman has an unwanted pregnancy, it was traumatic. … As a psychiatrist, I’m proud that this bill provides pregnant woman with a broad range of resources and knowledge base as she attempts this very difficult process of what the next steps are and going forward.”

‘Not winning’

But perhaps the most moving remarks of the night came from Rep. Laura Budd (D-Mecklenburg) who said that when she was elected in 2022, she knew this day would come and said that it was “disappointing” but “not unexpected.” She said the 24-hour review of a complex bill was insufficient, even for “a pretty bright group.”

“I would never presume to know any women’s stories but my own,” she said. “I am not you, and you are not me. I do not have the right to make that decision for you, and I ask that you not make it for me.

“If you are pro-life, I respect your decision, and all women in North Carolina are asking that you respect ours.”

She said the bill “can’t be sugar-coated” by funding for various initiatives that “you should be doing because they are the right things regardless.”

She said the bill wouldn’t affect any woman in the House or the Senate because “we are of power and privilege,” people who can afford time and money to travel to obtain the care they require.

“Do not mistake the outrage or the objections for this bill or what is contained in it as winning. Never, ever confuse it with actually winning.”

Change in the law

Since Roe v. Wade was overturned last summer in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Boggs decision, which said abortion laws were the province of the state, North Carolina had been operating with a 20-week abortion window.

Most abortions are now banned in 13 states, and Georgia has a 6-week ban. A similar 6-week limit is under review by the Florida Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court on April 21 extended access to the drug mifepristone, which is used in a cocktail with misoprostol is the most common form of abortion.