N.C. Gov. Cooper joins battle against GOP supermajority on abortion rights
Gov. Roy Cooper prepares to veto the abortion ban bill before hundreds of supporters on Bicentennial Mall Saturday in Raleigh, N.C. | Travis Long/AP

RALEIGH, N.C.—Gov. Roy Cooper, D-N.C., now the state’s sole state governmental bastion against radical right-wing extremism, has gone on the road to preserve full abortion rights in the Tar Heel State.

And if the Republican-run state legislature wasn’t so lopsidedly gerrymandered, and if voting rights weren’t so shackled—again by those same Republicans—Cooper wouldn’t have to appeal to the public in an unusual campaign to support his veto of the Republicans’ almost total abortion ban after 12 weeks.

“We are going to have to kick it into an even higher gear when that veto stamp comes down,” Cooper told the outdoor rally in the state capital in Raleigh before casting his veto. It was one of several events in his road trip to protect abortion rights. Others included a town hall at Davidson College and a speech in Charlotte. His road trip continues in advance of expected legislative votes this week.

“If just one Republican in either the House or the Senate keeps a campaign promise to protect women’s reproductive health we can stop this ban,” Cooper said at the May rally. “But that’s going to take every single one of you to make calls, to send emails, to write letters. Tell them to sustain this veto. Tell them to ask the Republican leadership to stop it.”

Welcome to the culture wars, and the voter suppression wars, North Carolina-style. They’re tied together.

Both anti-abortionism and voter suppression are part of the domination right wingers and their corporate backers scheme to impose on the entire country, not just the Tar Heel State’s residents. Their top targets are women, students and people of color. The right-wingers in North Carolina are backed by, among others, Big Tobacco and former parcel delivery CEO and GOP big giver Louis DeJoy, now U.S. Postmaster General.

The right-wingers have “positive” goals, too. Just the week before the State Senate approved the abortion bill, the entire legislature, using its three-fifths Republican majority, overrode Cooper’s veto of their legislation to allow everyone to carry a pistol everywhere without a permit.

Their vehicle this time, and the one which took Cooper on the road to an outdoor bill-vetoing ceremony in Raleigh, a town hall in Charlotte, and a roundtable at Davidson College, was a draconian abortion ban, SB20, the legislature passed earlier in May.

With other Southern states enacting even more restrictive abortion bans—such as after a fetal heartbeat is detected–North Carolina has been a refuge for women seeking abortion care.

They had to do so after the 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling overthrowing the constitutional right to an abortion. That ruling, too, was a party-line 5-4 vote. Southern states tightened restrictions or banned abortion outright after the Supreme Court sent abortion rights back to the states.

In North Carolina, the so-called “Care for Women, Children and Families Act” bans physicians from performing surgical abortions after12 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of rape and incest (20 weeks) or a “life-limiting anomaly” (24 weeks) or to prevent the mother’s death.

Under the bill, a physician could also perform an abortion after determining it is needed to avert death of the mother–“not including psychological or emotional conditions.”

Cooper’s not the only one on the road to rally abortion rights supporters. The Planned Parenthood Action Fund—the organization’s political arm—planned May 15 evening canvassing of voters in the districts of three Republican state senators who in the past had spoken for abortion rights.

And other supporters campaigned to get Rep. Tricia Cotham, now R-Mecklenburg, to reverse her anti-abortion House vote last month. Cotham came to national notice—even the Biden White House commented—in April when, then a pro-abortion, pro-gay rights Democrat from a 60% “blue” district, she switched parties and abortion positions.

She claimed she did so because the Democratic Party left her. She cited negative social media comments about her displays of the flag. If she sticks with the GOP she gives them the three-fifths state House majority they need to override Cooper’s veto. The right-wingers already had the three-fifths in the Senate.

But all this wouldn’t be possible for the radical rightists and their corporate backers if the state legislature wasn’t so gerrymandered, by race and by partisan affiliation. And that issue is—maybe—before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The reason for the “maybe” is that last year the justices heard a case, Moore vs Harper, from North Carolina which, if the Republican majority agrees with the legislature, could cement GOP hegemony not just in North Carolina but anywhere it can achieve control or already has it.

In Moore, the state NAACP and other groups challenged the legislature’s state and federal gerrymanders, and lower courts, including the State Supreme Court, on 4-3 party-lines, tossed those lines out as being gerrymandered “with surgical provision” to deny people their voting rights based on party affiliation.

The state justices appointed special masters to redraw congressional lines, while leaving the state legislative lines intact. They did. What was a GOP 11-3 or 12-2 U.S. House map became a 7-7 tie, which more accurately reflects the North Carolinian electorate.

The state lawmakers appealed to the justices to overturn the North Carolina Supreme Court, using a novel “Independent State Legislature” theory that would lock in one-party rule forever.

“Independent State Legislatures” declares the U.S. Constitution specifies that state legislatures—and only state legislatures—can draw district lines and enact other state-level voting laws. Governors can’t interfere. State courts have no place. Federal courts, including the Supreme Court, can’t intervene, either.

But in the 2022 election, two state Supreme Court justices retired, two Republicans were elected, and the court’s new 5-2 Republican majority reversed the prior 4-3 anti-gerrymandering ruling.

That led the U.S. Supreme Court to seek written briefs from both sides, which were filed this past weekend, on whether the Moore case is now moot—meaning there’s no controversy—and should be tossed out. If the justices say it’s moot, the Independent State Legislatures theory dies with it, at least for now.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.