Abortion rights groups say the GOP-led bill, which was universally opposed by Senate Democrats and supported by only six Democratic House lawmakers, would prevent women from having open conversations with their doctors and deny their constitutional right to an abortion.
Abortions on the basis of sex selection are already prohibited in North Carolina. House Bill 453, approved in the Senate by a vote of 27-20, would expand and strengthen the existing law by requiring physicians to report, with a signed confirmation, that an abortion was not desired due to sex, race or the likelihood of being born with Down syndrome.
Republican proponents say prenatal tests that confirm the presence of Down syndrome can sometimes be inaccurate, prompting women who wouldn't otherwise do so to terminate their pregnancy. Sen. Joyce Krawiec, a Forsyth County Republican, said the measure prevents discrimination and “modern-day eugenics."
“Children should not have to pass a genetic test to earn the right to be born," Krawiec said. The conservative North Carolina Values Coalition supports the bill. Cooper can veto the bill or sign it. The measure will become law if he declines to act within 10 days of receiving it, but even then, it's certain to be challenged in court.
Ford Porter, a spokesman for Cooper, said the governor is concerned about the proposal interfering with a woman's medical deliberations. “The governor has concerns about putting government in the exam room between a woman and her doctor, and he will review the bill,” Porter said in a statement by email.
Some Democratic lawmakers have warned that the bill could force women to carry out pregnancies if they tell their doctor that a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome factored into their decision not to go through with the pregnancy, even if it was not the motivating force.
Sen. Sarah Crawford, a Democrat who represents Franklin and parts of Wake County, described how she has personally experienced joy serving children and adults with disabilities through her role as the head of the Tammy Lynn Center for Developmental Disabilities. But she acknowledged some parents may not feel equipped to take care of a child with Down syndrome and said those parents shouldn't be compelled to give birth.
“This bill is not about the joy that people with disabilities bring to the world," Crawford said. “This bill is about controlling women. Simple as that.” The American Civil Liberties of Union of North Carolina and Planned Parenthood South Atlantic are urging Cooper to reject the proposal.
“Politicians should never have control over private family decisions nor should they force a person to carry a pregnancy to term against their will," said a statement from Susanna Birdsong, North Carolina director of public affairs of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.
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Anderson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.