RALEIGH — North Carolina Republicans are forging ahead in their efforts to further restrict abortions, saying the proposal would prevent discrimination and protect civil rights.
Though the legislation will likely be vetoed by the state’s Democratic governor, House Bill 453 would bar North Carolina physicians from performing abortions on patients who are seeking the procedure because of the fetus’s race or likelihood of having Down syndrome.
Republicans’ portrayal of the bill as a civil rights issue marks a shift in the party’s approach to messaging around abortion legislation and places the state among the ranks of other conservative-majority legislatures that have taken a similar approach in recent years.
That narrative has also sparked frustration among Democrats, who have expressed concerns about how Republicans have likened selective abortions to eugenics.
Conservative lawmakers’ new messaging surrounding the legislation also comes as the U.S. Supreme Court, with its 6-3 conservative majority, prepares to a review a restrictive Mississippi abortion law. Some 16 other states have also passed abortion restrictions in recent years in hopes that the newly conservative court might overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade case.
The focus on preventing discrimination may also make the bill, which will likely be voted on for a final time this week, more difficult for Democrats to oppose.
In a committee hearing Wednesday morning, Sen. Joyce Krawiec, a Republican from Kernersville and top Senate Health chair, pointed to laws that prevent discrimination based on race or disability in educational and judicial systems and in the workforce.
“Yet babies with the same characteristics can be aborted, simply because of their race or their disability,” Krawiec said. “This is eugenics in its worst form. This Human Life Non-Discrimination Act will end this atrocity.”
Despite the bill’s probable demise when it reaches Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk, legislative Republicans may also be continuing to advance the proposal in part because it could help them score political points among the party’s conservative base ahead of the 2022 elections.
State law already prevents providers from performing an abortion if it’s because of the fetus’ sex, but the proposed legislation would extend that to both race and disability.
The bill would require that physicians or abortion providers must confirm with a patient that they are not undergoing the procedure for any of those reasons, as well as collect data about the procedure and send it to the state.
The proposal is similar to a bill the Ohio legislature passed in 2017, which was upheld by an appeals court in April. The law includes criminal penalties for doctors who knowingly perform an abortion sought because of a fetus’s Down syndrome diagnosis.
North Carolina’s version of the legislation does not include criminal penalties.
In the court’s April opinion, some judges compared the Down syndrome-selective abortion to eugenics, as North Carolina Republicans have in debates.
Rep. John Bradford, a Republican from Cornelius, cited that court ruling in a committee hearing last month, saying that law was similar to North Carolina’s.
“This is less about, ‘should a woman have an abortion or not,’ and more about not discriminating against the baby in the womb, just because it has Down syndrome,” Bradford said.
Some Democrats and abortion advocates objected to Republicans’ portrayal of the legislation this way.
“It’s quite disturbing that you would connect eugenics to this abortion view,” said Rep. Carla Cunningham, a Democrat from Charlotte, in a committee hearing last month.
In North Carolina, the practice of eugenics is recent history. Over more than four decades, the state’s eugenics program forcibly sterilized more than 7,600 people, most of whom were Black, with the most recent cases occurring in 1974.
“This bill disregards the generational harms created by state sponsored eugenics programs and policies,” said Kelsea McLain, the community outreach director at A Woman’s Choice, Inc.
Democrats have also said Republicans have not moved to support people with disabilities beyond the womb, protect parents who give birth to low-weight infants or address infant mortality.
“It is really an atrocity to continue to bring these types of bills forward,” said Sen. Gladys Robinson, a Democrat from Greensboro. “We continue to bring up these kinds of bills that are discriminatory, in fact, against the very people they purport to protect.”
Another abortion restrictions bill, similar to a proposal Cooper vetoed in 2019, is also making its way through the legislature.
The argument for the “born alive” abortion bill, which would criminalize doctors who don’t provide care to abortion survivors, is largely similar to how Republicans presented it in 2019.
In a committee hearing last month, Krawiec said that bill is about protecting innocent lives.
“This is not a fight about abortion,” Krawiec said. “This is a fight to save human beings that have survived that abortion.”
The governor’s office said it will review any legislation that comes to his desk, but his track record shows he’s unlikely to sign anti-abortion legislation into law. In 2019, the legislature was unable to garner enough support from two-thirds of each chamber to override Cooper’s veto of the born-alive legislation.