In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, many North Carolinians have been asking, “What does this mean for our state?” and “What’s next for the pro-life movement?”
To answer those questions and more, we welcome back NC Family President John Rustin, and Counsel and Director of Community Impact Jere Royall to our Family Policy Matters radio show and podcast.
For decades, North Carolina has had a law that banned abortions after 20 weeks, but there were broad exceptions to this ban. “In 2015,” explains Rustin, “the North Carolina legislature enacted a provision in a bill that basically limited those exemptions from our 20-week ban to medical emergencies.”
Unfortunately, U.S. District Court Judge William Osteen enjoined the state’s 20-week ban because it “violated the viability standard that was established in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. […] Our legislative leaders are seeking to have our 20-week ban reinstated,” continues Rustin, “because Judge Osteen’s decision was based on Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey,” both of which were overturned by the Supreme Court last month.
But even with this 20-week ban, North Carolina remains a far more “liberal” state in terms of abortion law when compared to some of our neighbors. Though we have other strong pro-life laws on the books, neighboring states like South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee all have bans on abortion from very early in pregnancy that North Carolina does not yet have. Therefore, if we don’t act quickly, our state is likely to become a “destination state for people to come for abortions,” says Royall.
How can we prevent this? “We have been talking with our legislative leaders,” says Rustin. “We’ve been encouraging them to give serious consideration, and very soon, to legislation that would essentially be banning abortion in North Carolina, either at heartbeat or even sooner than that. But they have responded to that saying that the governor is highly likely to—if not guaranteed to—veto those bills. So, what they’re really focusing on is obtaining pro-life supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature this coming fall in the general election, and then coming back in January after that election when the new legislature is seated and taking up legislation that would enact a heartbeat bill or a more significant abortion ban in North Carolina.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear John Rustin and Jere Royall share more about North Carolina’s pro-life landscape, and how we can respond in the wake of the Dobbs decision.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. For months now, we’ve been hearing that the Dobbs U.S. Supreme Court decision, which effectively overturned Roe v. Wade, will turn abortion regulation back to the states.
So, what does this mean for North Carolina? To begin to answer that question, I’m joined today by NC Family President, John Rustin…
JOHN RUSTIN: Hi, Traci.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: And NC Family Counsel and Director of Community Impact Jere Royall…
JERE ROYALL: Hello, Traci.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: We’re going to discuss the current status of abortion law in North Carolina and the path forward. So we’ve been hearing that it’s likely that people will be increasingly coming to North Carolina for abortions—something that was surprising to me at least—and that has abortion centers and pro-life people scrambling to prepare. So, why is this happening?
JOHN RUSTIN: Traci, thank you, and let’s first of all acknowledge how incredible it is that the U.S. Supreme Court issued this ruling recently in the Dobbs case and overturned 50 years of abortion on-demand in our country. So, it’s something that we’ve been praying for for decades and working hard for for many, many years, and it finally came to fruition.
But, as you said, that decision basically handed the decision-making authority back to the states regarding abortion and pro-life laws. So, here in North Carolina since soon after the Roe v. Wade decision was issued in 1973, North Carolina adopted a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. But essentially, the exceptions to that ban were so broad as to allow abortions in many cases after 20 weeks in North Carolina. But in 2015, the North Carolina legislature enacted a provision in a bill that basically limited those exemptions from our 20-week ban to medical emergencies, which was basically the life of the mother or the impairment of a major bodily function.
So, it really restricted abortion after 20 weeks in North Carolina. Because it was effective, Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion groups sued and sought to have that law overturned or enjoined. In fact, in March of 2019, a federal district court Judge William Osteen enjoined our 20-week ban, and he basically said that 20-week ban violated the viability standard that was established in Roe v. Wade and in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, two major abortion rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court. So, effectively, what he did was to employ a viability standard here in North Carolina.
So, the effect of that was that an abortionist would make a determination of whether or not that unborn child is viable or can live outside the mother’s womb and survive. Unfortunately and tragically, that subjective decision is put in the hands of the individual who is being paid to end the life of that unborn child.
So, that is basically the current status of abortion in North Carolina right now. Our legislative leaders are seeking to have our 20-week ban reinstated because Judge Osteen’s decision was based on Roe v. Wade, and now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned, it’s just logical that the 20-week ban would be reinstated with that more extensive medical emergency exemption.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So, that makes us then more liberal than a lot of the states around us? That’s why people are supposedly going to be coming to our state?
JERE ROYALL: Exactly. I mean, right now South Carolina and Georgia both have what are referred to as “heartbeat” laws, and a lot of states put these in place before Roe v. Wade was overruled. What that meant for some is once the day came that it was overruled, these new laws would go into effect. Some of them passed them, and courts enjoined them. They weren’t set up as what they would refer to as “trigger” laws; they were just set up to pass a law, and then the court said, “No, you can’t do that because of Roe.” Well, now, like I said, South Carolina and Georgia have heartbeat laws, which basically would ban abortion as soon as a heartbeat can be detected, which is around 24 days or six weeks gestational age of the unborn child. That would address, I know people estimate, as many as 95% of abortions.
Tennessee, another bordering state, basically has banned all abortions. Again, all these laws do have exceptions written into them, just what John referred to earlier as medical emergencies, like when the mother’s life is in danger, but in effect they will cut back abortions dramatically in these adjoining states. So that’s why, like you say, Traci, what will happen logically is those people who are seeking abortions from those states will see North Carolina as one that’s much more open. This will be—I don’t like to use the term—but a destination state for people to come for abortions.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: All right. Well clearly, you guys feel the need to get moving on this. Talk a little bit about what you’re going to do. What are people saying over there in the legislature? What kind of opposition do you expect from our Democrat governor?
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, the governor, clearly (based on his past history with bills that would ban abortions for a variety of reasons) he’s vetoed those bills. Unfortunately, the legislature has not had the votes to override those vetoes. So, we have been talking with our legislative leaders; we’ve been encouraging them to give serious consideration, and very soon, to legislation that would essentially be banning abortion in North Carolina, either at heartbeat or even sooner than that. But they have responded to that saying that the governor is highly likely to—if not guaranteed to—veto those bills. So, what they’re really focusing on is obtaining pro-life super majorities in both chambers of the legislature this coming fall in the general election, and then coming back in January after that election when the new legislature is seated and taking up legislation that would enact a heartbeat bill or a more significant abortion ban in North Carolina.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Okay. For people who may be political newbies, explain what you mean by a super majority.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, in order to override the governor’s veto, the legislature—both chambers of the General Assembly—have to have two-thirds of members present and voting to vote to override the veto. So, currently in the State House, for example, there are 69 Republicans and they need 72 votes to override the gubernatorial veto. So, they need to have the entire Republican caucus and then three Democrats to vote to override the veto.
In the Senate, they have to have 30 votes to override the veto. So, Republicans hold 28 seats in the Senate. They need two Democrats to vote along with the entire Republican caucus in the Senate to override the veto. Those votes are just not clearly there, especially in the Senate; it’s a real challenge to even get two Democrats to vote in support of a pro-life measure, like a heartbeat bill, or what we saw this legislative session—a bill to ban eugenic abortions in North Carolina that would prohibit abortions that are sought because of the race or the sex of the unborn child, or a diagnosis of Down syndrome. That bill passed both chambers of the legislature but was vetoed by Governor Roy Cooper, and the legislature just didn’t take up the veto override vote because they weren’t certain that they had the votes to do that.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Wow. So, Governor Cooper vetoed even that?
JOHN RUSTIN: Even that, yes.
JERE ROYALL: Well, and along those lines, thinking about the upcoming elections, we have judicial races. We’ve seen that what happened with this recent U.S. Supreme Court decision is the Court recognized that the judges in the Roe decision stepped outside of their authority. That’s where we need in the upcoming judicial elections to hopefully and prayerfully have judges elected who understand the role of the judge is not to create new law. Because if a pro-life law is passed, it’s very likely it would be challenged and come before the judges in North Carolina.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So, I think it’s important to note, though, that North Carolina does have some very good legislation that effectively supports unborn children and their mothers and makes abortion less likely in our state. So, talk about some of those things.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, thank you, Traci. Yeah, we’ve been working for decades to secure strong pro-life laws while Roe v. Wade has been kind of the law of the land, so to speak. So, we have laws still in place in North Carolina that require a parental consent before a minor can obtain an abortion. We have a Women’s Right to Know Act that was passed in 2011 that ensures that a woman considering abortion has the information that she needs to make an informed decision. We call this “informed consent.” That bill was originally passed with a 24-hour waiting period after this information was provided to the pregnant mother. Then, several years ago, that 24-hour waiting period was increased to 72 hours to ensure that the woman has ample time to make consideration of the information that she has received before she decides if she should go forward with the abortion.
The legislature has also essentially eliminated taxpayer funding of abortions and appropriation of funds to groups like Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the nation, and instead has been making appropriations to support pregnancy care centers across the state who are really equipped to help women navigate decisions when they find themselves in what’s commonly referred to as a crisis pregnancy. The legislature has also banned sex-selection abortions, which are sought because of the presumed sex of the unborn child, and as well as a ban on the dispensing of abortifacient drugs via telehealth or over the Internet. So, we’ve got a lot of really good laws in place, but they don’t get to the fundamental issue that we need to get to, which is now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned, we just need to simply ban practically all abortions in North Carolina.
JERE ROYALL: Right, and it’s hard to quantify the effect of all those laws, but some people have estimated the laws that are in place have reduced abortion by as much as 25% in North Carolina. But as John’s saying, we obviously want to go to the place where we’re protecting human life at conception from the beginning of human life.
JOHN RUSTIN: And let me just say the basis for that decision is that we believe that God has created life—that God is the creator and designer of life, and every human being is valuable and worthy of protection. That’s the fundamental basis from which we start. This is not just a political issue; it is an issue of most fundamental faith belief that God is the creator of human life, and that we, as a society, need to recognize and honor that and have laws in place that protect and preserve human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Right, we’re about out of time. So, just to close, I can’t remember a time during my adult life at least that there was so much angst and contention in our society than the one that is over this issue. Are we going to make it through this? Are we going to be able to turn the culture as well as some of these laws around, do you think?
JOHN RUSTIN: Well, I feel certain that we have the capability to do that. We continue to pray and work to bring civility to this discussion. We see our culture growing more and more in its embracing of life and the recognition that human life, it’s a fundamental right that we have. But if you don’t have that fundamental right to life, then all other rights and privileges that are supposedly guaranteed by the Constitution and the laws of our nation and our state are meaningless. So, we’re going to continue to work to do all that we can to advocate for the protection and the honoring of human life in North Carolina and in our country. We’re hopeful that we can prayerfully cut through that.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Well, we want to remind our listeners to sign up for our emails and legislative alerts at ncfamily.org, so that you can be informed, equipped, and inspired to be a voice of persuasion for family values in your community, our state, and our nation. Well, thank you very much NC Family President John Rustin and NC Family Counsel and Director of Community Impact Jere Royall for joining us today on Family Policy Matters.
JOHN RUSTIN: Thank you, Traci.
JERE ROYALL: Thank you.
– END –