Posts Mislead About Status of 2021 North Carolina Abortion Bill
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A bill introduced in the North Carolina House of Representatives last year said anyone getting an abortion should be “held accountable” for murder. The bill received little support and did not advance. But social media posts misleadingly claimed the state is considering a proposal that would “make it legal to murder a pregnant woman” trying to get an abortion.
Republican Rep. Larry Pittman introduced a bill in the North Carolina House of Representatives in February 2021 — long before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June — that said “human life begins at the moment of fertilization” and that “new human life is recognized by the State as an individual person, entitled to the protection under the State’s laws from the moment of fertilization until natural death.”
The bill called for anyone “willfully seeking to destroy the life of another person, by any means, at any stage of life, or succeeds in doing so, to be held accountable for attempted murder or for first degree murder, respectively.” Murder in the first degree is punishable by life in prison or the death penalty.
The bill also said that the state “has an interest and a duty to defend innocent persons from willful destruction of their lives and to punish those who take the lives of persons, born or unborn, who have not committed any crime punishable by death.”
The bill failed to advance. The North Carolina General Assembly website lists only five sponsors. Pittman, the main sponsor, is not running for reelection this year, according to the state House Principal Clerk’s Office.
But comedian Amanda Seales misleadingly claimed in an Instagram video posted July 20 that North Carolina is considering a bill that would make it legal to “murder a pregnant woman who intends to get an abortion.”
Seales, with an image of North Carolina House Bill 158 in the background, urged North Carolinians to vote. “If the Republicans win a supermajority, this is the type of shit that is happening, that’s going to be happening in your state, and the blood will be on your hands,” she said.
Another Instagram post with more than 1,000 likes was posted by comedian TK Kirkland making a similar claim: “North Carolina Bill Proposes Women Who Get Abortions Should Face Death Penalty.”
Republicans already control the North Carolina state legislature, and hope to have a supermajority in 2023, Insider reported. That would allow them to override any veto from Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat who recently issued an executive order aimed at protecting abortion rights. North Carolina lawmakers adjourned on July 1, although they will reconvene on several dates through the end of the year to take up bills related to election laws and other issues.
Pittman long ago acknowledged his bill was a long shot. “A lot of my bills have never even been given a hearing since I’ve been here,” he said at a rally in September 2021, noting that he “tried to run a similar bill” in 2013. “I often have to stand alone,” he said. “I’m used to that.”
We tried to reach Pittman for further comment, but he did not respond.
“The fact that this happened in February 2021 and the first time we’re hearing about it is July 2022 tells us all we really need to know about the fact that this was never legislation that had any chance at all of becoming law,” Steven Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University, told us.
The bill “goes well beyond even the most extreme pro-life legislation being passed anywhere, and I have a hard time imagining this could get majority support among even a very conservative group of Republican state legislators,” Greene said.
If the bill had gotten traction, it “goes so far that I’d have to imagine it would be enjoined by courts before ever going into effect,” Greene said. However, he added, “this is a brave new world we are in now where we are still very much learning just how far Republican legislators will go and how far courts will let them.”
“This goes well beyond an abortion ban,” Maxine Eichner, a law professor at the University of North Carolina, told us in a phone interview. In theory, it allows use of force against a pregnant woman on the grounds that “she is now housing a human life who any third person could defend,” Eichner said.
Pittman’s bill was proposed as an amendment to the state constitution, which requires approval by a three-fifths vote of both the state House and Senate before going on the ballot for voters. While the bill had no chance when it was introduced, things might be different after the November elections, Eichner noted.
“I think there certainly would be legal challenges” to the bill, Eichner said. “Two months ago, I would have told you those legal challenges would be successful.” But that’s not a sure thing now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade and a U.S. appeals court has upheld a Georgia law banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, she said.
The Georgia law “had similar language about fetal personhood,” though it “didn’t directly address the issue of using violence against a person in defense of the fetus,” Eichner said.
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