NC Gov. Roy Cooper, Democrats want abortion access at forefront of 2024 election

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Gov. Roy Cooper and other North Carolina Democrats want to position abortion access as a key 2024 election issue.

Cooper spoke in Charlotte Monday at a news conference with other Democrats to mark the 51st anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. The governor said abortion access is on the ballot in North Carolina and nationwide in 2024.

The event was part of a nationwide push from the Biden-Harris team meant to put the battle over abortion rights in focus ahead of November’s presidential election. Abortion rights have proved to be a fruitful issue for Democrats since the Supreme Court overturned Roe in 2022 and opened the door to new state-level bans of the procedure, the Associated Press reported, leading the Biden campaign to “betting big on abortion rights as a major driver for Democrats in the election.”

“North Carolina is a battleground state in the governor’s race, for our state legislative races and for Congress,” Cooper said. “And it is no coincidence that North Carolina is also a battleground state in the fight for women’s reproductive freedom.”

Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University, said the focus on abortion “seems to have worked well” for Democrats in recent elections, and the same could be seen in North Carolina.

Reproductive health ‘on the ballot’

Rep. Ashton Clemmons speaks during a press conference to mark the 51th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling at Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture in Charlotte, N.C., on Monday, January 22, 2024.
Rep. Ashton Clemmons speaks during a press conference to mark the 51th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling at Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture in Charlotte, N.C., on Monday, January 22, 2024.

The governor said former President Donald Trump “proudly brags” that Roe, which established constitutional protections for abortion, was overturned while he was in office and after he put multiple appointees on the Supreme Court.

“If Republicans take over the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives and send President Trump a national abortion ban, he would sign it in a New York minute. We cannot let him have the chance to do that,” he said.

At the state level, the governor said Republican gubernatorial candidate and Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson “has promised to outlaw abortion in North Carolina” if elected governor. Robinson’s at-times conflicting statements on abortion access over his time in politics have made national headlines.

In a statement, Robinson’s campaign spokesman Mike Lonergan said the candidate and his wife “have struggled with this difficult and painful experience before and this is part of what makes him pro-life,” and he “has publicly supported legislation that would limit abortion after a heartbeat is detected, with protections for extreme situations such as rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in danger.”

“On abortion, there’s only one extremist in this race: Josh Stein, who supports taxpayer-funded abortion on demand with no restrictions up until birth,” he said, though there’s no evidence Stein supports that and Stein’s campaign has said that mischaracterizes the Democrat’s views.

The governor cited the 12-week abortion ban passed by the Republican supermajority in Raleigh over his veto last year as a sign of what could come in the state if the GOP gains more ground in 2024.

“That’s why breaking the Republican supermajority in our state legislature and electing a Democratic governor this year is so important,” he said.

State House Democratic Leader Robert Reives went a step further, adding that he believes if elected, Republicans will also target other forms of reproductive health care, including birth control.

“Contraception is on the ballot,” he said.

The Charlotte Observer contacted representatives for the North Carolina GOP, Republican state House Speaker Tim Moore and Republican state Senate leader Phil Berger for comments on abortion as an issue in the 2024 election and did not receive a response as of Tuesday morning.

Can focus on abortion help Democrats in 2024?

Major players such as President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their spouses will be on the road this week in other swing states such as Wisconsin and Virginia for campaign stops focused on abortion, according to the AP.

The campaign is also launching an advertising campaign on the subject and holding events similar to the governor’s in other battleground states including Michigan and Arizona.

“We know that if we talk about this issue as a fundamental freedom, we are able to resonate across demographics — older voters, younger voters, people of color, folks in rural areas,” Mini Timmaraju, head of Reproductive Freedom for All, told the AP.

Democrats have seen success on ballot measures related to abortion in states such as Kentucky, Ohio and Kansas since Roe’s overturn, and an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found nearly nine in 10 Democrats say abortion should generally be legal.

Cooper, the WCU professor, said he thinks the Democrats’ strategy is “in some ways an obvious” one.

“Really politics is not so much about convincing people to believe the same thing you do, but highlighting the issues where you’re closer to the average person than your opponent,” he said. “So I think that’s what this abortion issue does in general. I’d say it’s a good issue for the Democratic Party.”

Cooper said it will be key for Democrats “to make abortion a salient issue, therefore driving the vote towards them.”

And, he added, “Republicans have their own sets of issues where they think they’re closer to the average North Carolinian.” That could mean more of a focus on issues such as border security and less on abortion from Republicans, Cooper said.

Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the NC Values Coalition, said the data she’s seen shows there are plenty of North Carolinians who disagree with the Democratic platform on abortion.

“It is not only diabolical, but a losing strategy as well...” she said.

Doctor: NC providers already impacted

Katherine Farris, a North Carolina family medicine doctor who performs abortions, said at Monday’s event she’s already seeing the impacts of the end of Roe in her practice.

“It’s been devastating,” she said. “The goal of these bans is to cause harm and confusion, and they are 100% working.”

Farris said in particular it’s been difficult to provide care to people traveling from other states that have implemented abortion bans beyond North Carolina’s since the end of Roe because of the cost and logistics of travel and confusion over waiting periods.

“It is traumatizing, and no other part of healthcare is treated like this,” she said. “Abortion shouldn’t be either.”

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