By Will Doran
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a controversial abortion bill Thursday, saying it's unnecessary and ill-advised.
The bill would create new criminal and civil penalties for infanticide, specifically for situations in which a baby survives an abortion procedure. The new punishments apply to doctors and nurses who don't provide care for the surviving newborns.
Supporters of the "Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act" have not shown evidence of it happening in North Carolina. And if it were to happen, the perpetrator can already be charged with murder. But they say the bill is needed, to make sure it doesn't happen.
"Laws already protect newborn babies and this bill is an unnecessary interference between doctors and their patients," the Democratic governor said in his veto message. "This needless legislation would criminalize doctors and other healthcare providers for a practice that simply does not exist."
Republicans quickly criticized the veto. In a joint statement two of the bill's top supporters, Sen. Joyce Krawiec of Forsyth County and Rep. Pat McElraft of Carteret County, said that "caring for a living, breathing newborn infant is too restrictive for Governor Cooper's radical abortion agenda."
"We thought Democrats would agree that children born alive should be separate from the abortion debate, but it's clear they want the 'right to choose' to even extend past birth," they wrote.
However, Democrats have frequently pointed out that killing babies is already illegal, even without this bill. The North Carolina Democratic Party tweeted support for Cooper on Thursday, calling it "a partisan bill grounded in anti-choice rhetoric, not medical science."
When the bill passed the legislature on Tuesday, Republicans strongly defended it. Rep. Sarah Stevens, one of the top Republican leaders, said that in addition to the various punishments laid out in the bill, it also has a section requiring health care professionals who suspect an infanticide to report it to authorities.
"We don't know if it's going on here," Stevens said in the Tuesday debate over the bill. "But what we did say is you now have a duty to report. Nurses, doctors, if you see something, you have a duty to report. And that's a big part of this bill."
Democrats questioned the timing of the bill, with major elections coming up next year.
"Do any of you really think that infanticide is legal in North Carolina today?" Democratic Rep. Susan Fisher of Asheville asked her Republican colleagues on Tuesday. "If so, then why didn't you do anything to stop it in the decade you've had a supermajority?"
Nearly all of Cooper's previous vetoes have been overridden by the legislature, although this is the first bill he has vetoed since Democrats flipped enough seats in the 2018 elections to take away Republicans' veto-proof supermajority.
Now, Republicans will need at least some Democrats to join them to override Cooper's veto.
While normal bills only require a simple majority to pass, veto overrides require support from 60 percent of the legislators present. When the bill passed the House and the Senate earlier this week, it did not gain 60 percent support in either chamber.
However, neither vote was taken with all legislators present, so it's unclear what might happen if an override vote is called in the future.
(c)2019 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)