RALEIGH, N.C. -- North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday vetoed a measure barring women from getting an abortion specifically because of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome in a fetus. The proposal advanced by Republicans also sought to prohibit abortions on the basis of race or sex.
Under the measure, physicians would be required to report, with a signed confirmation, that an abortion was not desired for those three reasons. Republicans backing the measure say it would prevent a "modern-day eugenics" by ensuring disabled people wouldn't need to pass a genetic test in order to be born.
In a veto message, the state’s Democratic governor cited privacy concerns, arguing the bill would have made it difficult for patients to get medical information and have honest conversations with their doctors.
“This bill gives the government control over what happens and what is said in the exam room between a woman and her doctor at a time she faces one of the most difficult decisions of her life," Cooper said in a statement. "This bill is unconstitutional and it damages the doctor-patient relationship with an unprecedented government intrusion.”
Republican sponsors face a difficult challenge in overriding Cooper's veto. They'd need support from multiple Democrats in each chamber to complete the override. While six House Democrats joined Republicans in supporting the bill, the Senate vote was split along party lines.
“Gender, race, and disability are protected classes in most other contexts. Why should we allow the unborn to be discriminated against for these same traits?" a statement from House Speaker Tim Moore said. ”The message sent by this veto is that some human life is more valuable than others based on immutable characteristics.”
Abortions on the basis of sex selection are already outlawed in North Carolina. The bill would have strengthened the existing law by adding a mandate that physicians complete a form with signed confirmation that an abortion was not wanted because of a fetus's race, sex or Down syndrome diagnosis.
Several states have already enacted similar plans. South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem signed a bill in March barring women from seeking abortions based on the detection of Down syndrome. Arizona GOP Gov. Dough Ducey approved a bill in April to outlaw the procedure if a woman is seeking an abortion solely because a fetus has a genetic abnormality such as Down syndrome. A divided federal appeals court ruled earlier that month that Ohio could enforce a similar 2017 anti-abortion law the state passed but had on hold as it worked its way through the courts.
Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers and abortion rights groups in North Carolina have said House Bill 453 would force women to give birth, even if a Down syndrome diagnosis was just one of many factors that contributed to their decision.
Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and the American Civil Liberties Union praised Cooper for rejecting the proposal.
“We have a lot of work to do to end discrimination against marginalized groups, but unconstitutionally limiting access to medical care based on the government’s moral judgment does not contribute in any way to those efforts,” said Liz Barber, policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.
The conservative NC Values Coalition is calling on state lawmakers to override Cooper's veto.
“North Carolina should be a state where differences are celebrated and all babies are welcome,” said a statement from Julie Scott Emmons, the organization's vice president. "We encourage members of the North Carolina General Assembly to embrace life and ensure that this legislation becomes law.”
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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.