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Pitts: Will North Carolina go the way of Kansas on abortion rights?

The Fayetteville Observer logo The Fayetteville Observer 8/6/2022 Myron B. Pitts, The Fayetteville Observer

Kansas voters on Tuesday night soundly rejected an attempt to end abortion rights, with nearly 60% turning back the measure.

Kansas is a solid red state, and the news sent shockwaves through the political world. It was a jolt to anti-abortion activists and a boost for advocates for a woman’s right to choose.

What could it mean for the midterm elections? 

Related: Kansas upholds right to abortion, a blow to anti-abortion movement in first Roe referendum

Fayetteville activists: Abortion ruling will hurt pregnant Black women

Maybe a lot. I believe Roe is going to be a bigger issue than some people thought, including here in North Carolina — a state that is a lot less red than Kansas.  

How much of an impact nationwide will come down to each individual state. The states will decide. That is supposed to be the legal underpinning of the 5-4 Supreme Court decision in June that ended federal protections for abortion provided by Roe v. Wade.

When I consider how the Kansas results may indicate how things will go in North Carolina, I find areas of similarity — and some crucial differences.

Here are a few.

In NC, we’ll vote for candidates — not a policy

In November, North Carolina will not have a straight up-and-down vote on abortion rights, like they had in Kansas. I would wager after Tuesday, we are unlikely to ever again see a GOP-led state schedule an abortion measure to put before voters. The risk is too great that the GOP fails and, by so doing, strengthens abortion rights.

The specific question on the Kansas ballot gave voters the option to change their state constitution, which protects bodily autonomy — or put simply, complete control over one’s body — in its bill of rights. The state Supreme Court interpreted that provision as protecting women’s abortion rights.

a man wearing glasses and looking at the camera: Myron B. Pitts © File Myron B. Pitts

Voters here in N.C. will not vote on any such change. We will be voting in normal, mid-term elections — for individuals or for the political party they represent. 

North Carolina has a Democratic governor in Roy Cooper and a state legislature controlled by Republicans. As I’ve written before, the GOP goal is to win a super-majority in the November state elections, so it can override any veto Cooper would use to block an abortion ban.

I have little doubt Republicans will move quickly to outlaw or severely restrict abortion if voters hand them a supermajority. 

House Speaker Tim Moore said in an interview with the Raleigh News & Observer last month he believed that when there is a heartbeat, there is a child. That can be as early as 6 ½ to 7 weeks, or even earlier, according to various sources.

Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger told WRAL in July that women in early pregnancy should have bodily autonomy but at some point “society and the law should have some role in protecting the life of the fetus.”

More from Myron Pitts: Pitts: After Roe, NC legislative races will determine if abortion remains legal

On the other side, Cooper last month signed an executive order protecting abortion access and providers in North Carolina. Also in July, Democratic N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein rebuffed GOP requests that he encourage a federal judge to reinstate a ban on abortion after 20 weeks. 

The judge in 2019 blocked the law, citing Roe, and is currently considering reinstatement. Stein in the mean time has recused himself in the case and become a full-throated advocate for protecting abortion access.

This all means that the effect of our state’s elections on abortion will be just as stark as the ballot measure in Kansas.

If Republicans win out, abortion goes. If Democrats win out, abortion stays. It really is as simple as that.

But absent an actual abortion question on the ballot, how the state’s voters will go is up in the air. 

North Carolina, Kansas are destinations

Both North Carolina and Kansas have become destinations for women who seek access to legal abortions because of their geographic locations in the south and Midwest, respectively. Each borders states that have either banned abortion or are fast working toward a ban, after the Court’s decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned the 1973 Roe decision as well as Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992).

There are some indicators North Carolina was already an abortion destination, according to reporting in the Wilmington StarNews, which cited CDC figures that showed a fifth of the state’s 28,000 abortion procedures in 2019 were from out-of-state patients. The end of Roe is accelerating that travel.

Cooper's executive order specifically mentioned the state’s status as a destination for women from other states with restrictive abortion policies.

Val Applewhite, candidate for State Senate District 19 © Contributed Val Applewhite, candidate for State Senate District 19

North Carolina, the order says, “will serve as an increasingly critical access point for reproductive health care services for people across the Southeast and country.”

Val Applewhite, a Fayetteville Democrat who is pro-choice and running for N.C. Senate, said in the weeks after Roe was overturned, “more than 200 procedures were for women from other states,” citing just figures from Planned Parenthood, which operates several of the state’s 14 clinics that perform abortions.

Applewhite attended the ceremony where Cooper signed the executive order. 

“As I stood behind the governor, the realization that the outcome of my election, and for the other candidates, will affect the lives of thousands of women in the south was an out-of-body experience.” 

The fact that our state is a destination for abortions has an entirely different meaning for Dr. William Pincus, president of North Carolina Right to Life, which is affiliated with National Right to Life and is headquartered in Greensboro.

An anti-abortion demonstrator, Michael, who didn't want to give his last name, stands outside the Carolina Women's Clinic and speaks on a microphone offering patients inside free assistance on Tuesday, May 3, 2022, on Gillespie Street in Fayetteville. © Andrew Craft, The Fayetteville Observer An anti-abortion demonstrator, Michael, who didn't want to give his last name, stands outside the Carolina Women's Clinic and speaks on a microphone offering patients inside free assistance on Tuesday, May 3, 2022, on Gillespie Street in Fayetteville.

“I’m very pro-life. I wouldn’t be in this line of work if I wasn’t,” he said. “I’m a physician, so I understand the science behind everything. I’m saddened that people are traveling here to get abortions. We would like to tighten the laws in North Carolina.”

North Carolina Right to Life works to elect pro-life candidates, Pincus said, and pointed to the need for a super-majority or otherwise it will be “very difficult” to pass abortion restrictions in North Carolina. But he said his organization also wants to support mothers — with parenting classes, diapers, wipes, job training and affordable housing.

“We want the women to value the life of the child,” he said. “We want to improve the family structure with the man and the woman and the child, the husband and the wife, at home with the children. We want to support the women.”

NC is ‘light pink’

North Carolina and Kansas part when it comes to political leanings. Kansas has not voted for a Democrat for president since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. In 2008, North Carolina went for Barack Obama.

In 2020, Donald Trump defeated Joe Biden in North Carolina by a little more than 1 point. In Kansas, his margin was nearly +15.

The Old North State consistently elects Democratic governors and has been host to some of the tightest Senate races in the country — including this year between Democrat Cheri Beasley and Republican Ted Budd. 

The light-pink nature of our state politics must be put in the context of how the country as a whole views Roe vs. Wade. Ending abortion access has not had majority support in recent memory. Consistent polling shows that 6 in 10 Americans say it should be legal.

It is reasons like these that explain how even a deeply red state like Kansas can thoroughly reject an abortion ban placed on the ballot. Such an attempt would likely be D.O.A. in a light pink state like ours. 

To the contrary, if Democrats ever get back to an outright majority in the General Assembly, I don’t think it’s a stretch to believe that it may be the first party to put abortion on the ballot — in order to save it.

Opinion Editor Myron B. Pitts can be reached at or 910-486-3559.

This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: Pitts: Will North Carolina go the way of Kansas on abortion rights?


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