A Republican-sponsored bill aimed at preventing abortions based on a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome is headed to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper after clearing the state Senate on a party line vote Thursday.
House Bill 453, titled “Human Life Nondiscrimination Act/No Eugenics,” also would prevent women from having an abortion based on the race or sex of the fetus.
The Senate approved the bill by a 27-20 vote with no Democratic “yes” votes.
The House approved the bill by a 67-42 vote on May 6 with six Democrats voting yes.
“The unborn are the most vulnerable among us and should not be discriminated against based on a presumptive in-utero diagnosis,” House speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said in a statement.
“This violates natural law and robs society of the blessing each and every child is to all of us. No child should have to be ‘screened’ to be given the chance to live.”
Cooper has 10 days to sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature. Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said that “the governor will review this legislation further before commenting.”
Political analysts expect Cooper to veto the bill, as he did the abortion-focused “Born Alive” bill that cleared the legislature in 2019.
The current state legislature is made up of 28 Republicans and 22 Democrats in the Senate. The N.C. House has 69 Republicans and 53 Democrats.
At least 30 votes are required in the Senate to override a governor’s veto, as well as at least 72 in the House.
The three-page bill would require a physician “to confirm before the abortion that the woman is not seeking an abortion because of any of the following: the actual or presumed race or racial makeup of the unborn child; the sex of the unborn child; the presence or presumed presence of Down syndrome.”
Bill sponsors in both chambers, including Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, have tried to frame the debate as an eugenics issue — an intensely sensitive topic in North Carolina.
The state ran one of the most aggressive sterilization programs in the country from 1929 through 1974, rendering barren more than 7,600 men, women and children on often flimsy evidence that they were mentally or physically unfit to reproduce.
Democratic Gov. Mike Easley apologized for the forced sterilizations in 2002, but it took about another 10 years for legislators to set up a compensation program. By February 2018, about 220 applicants had each received three payments totaling $45,000 from those considered qualified by the N.C. Industrial Commission.
Krawiec said during Thursday’s floor debate that she considers allowing abortions to take place for any of the three reasons cited in the bill as “eugenics in its worst form.”
“Nothing could be more stigmatizing than ... for anyone to lose their life because of their race, or because of their disability.
“We want to eliminate this atrocity so that North Carolina no longer participates in that practice,” Krawiec said.
‘Disrespects the trauma’
Democratic opponents of HB453 said the legislation is another strategy for reducing women’s reproductive rights.
Sen. Natalie Murdock, D-Durham, said Thursday that for bill sponsors to use eugenics “to push this bill forward is concerning.”
“To label an individual’s decision to obtain an abortion as eugenics, as this bill does, is offensive, irresponsible and warps the painful legacy of the eugenics movement in North Carolina.
“It disrespects the trauma endured by real victims of forced sterilization.”
Bill opponents said they fear the doctor-patient conversation requirements in the bill could jeopardize women’s trust in medical care, and could lead some women to carry pregnancies to term once they learn of a Down syndrome diagnosis, even if they have other reasons for considering an abortion.
Sen. Sarah Crawford, D-Wake, said Thursday that Republican supporters of the anti-abortion measure should be just as willing to step up to provide consistent funding for health care and education for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities as they grow up.
Crawford pointed out that neither bipartisan Senate Bill 350 or companion bill House Bill 389 have been heard in a committee since they were introduced in late March. Krawiec is primary sponsor of SB350.
The bills would provide $37.5 million for helping provide personal care services for North Carolinians with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The state’s Medicaid innovations waiver initiative allows people with intellectual disabilities to receive services and assistance in their homes and communities instead of in institutions.
The services involve in-home skill building, intensive recovery support and transitional living.
There are more than 15,000 individuals on the waiting list known as North Carolina’s Registry of Unmet Needs, including at least 809 in Forsyth. Some North Carolinians have waited as many as 19 years.
Those efforts “are woefully underfunded for those with the greatest needs,” Crawford said.
Citing Republican leadership’s strong opposition to expanding Medicaid coverage, Crawford said supporters of this latest anti-abortion measure “need to truly value life past birth.”
Liz Barber, policy analyst for the ACLU of N.C., said that the legislation “flies in the face of racial justice and disability rights and casts a person’s reproductive decisions as discrimination to stigmatize abortion.”
“This legislation presents an unconstitutional ban on abortions before viability, and limits people’s access to care based on the government’s moral judgments on personal decisions. Every federal court to consider the question agrees that a state cannot ban abortions based on a patient’s reason,” she said.
“Each and every North Carolinian has the freedom to define their own path, including the right to decide if and when one wants to become a parent. We call on Gov. Cooper to veto HB453 to protect this right.”
Chances of override
Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi, an economics professor at Winston-Salem State University, said there is a better-than-even chance of HB453 surviving a Cooper veto because of how sponsors framed the legislation “as one to combat eugenics and sexism, as opposed to restricting all abortions ... since the actual rationale for abortions can depend on multiple factors.”
Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst with Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation, said the Senate’s party-line vote on HB453 “suggests it’s not likely to survive Gov. Cooper’s veto stamp.”
“It’s possible that bill sponsors at least contemplated the idea that this measure might not become law this year,” he said.
“But they wanted to go on record — and put their opponents on record — in addressing one of their highest priority issues.”