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Fact Check: Did the NC GOP reintroduce abortion bill defining life at conception?

Activist and former Virginia Democratic congressional candidate Qasim Rashid.

It’s time for our weekly fact check of North Carolina politics. This week, we look at a claim about an abortion bill and state Republicans. In a now-deleted tweet, activist and former Virginia Democratic congressional candidate Qasim Rashid wrote, “North Carolina GOP is reintroducing a bill that says life begins at conception and anyone who destroys that fertilized egg is guilty of first-degree murder.” For more, "Morning Edition" host Marshall Terry talks to Paul Specht of WRAL.

"North Carolina GOP is reintroducing a bill that says life begins at conception and anyone who destroys that fertilized egg is guilty of first-degree murder," Qasim Rashid, a human rights attorney, said in a July 18 Twitter post.

Mashall Terry: Ok Paul, what bill is Rashid referring to here?

Paul Specht: He's referring to H.B. 158 and it calls for a constitutional amendment to recognize life beginning at conception. And, it mentions that any destruction of life, as defined by that bill, would then qualify as murder or attempted murder. The tweet in some ways does capture what the bill seeks to do.

Terry: Now Rashid said in his tweet that the North Carolina GOP reintroduced this bill. Is that true?

Specht: No, that's inaccurate on a couple of fronts. First of all, when people hear the term North Carolina GOP, they might think of the party organization, which there is one, there is an actual organization. But, they're not typically involved in writing bills, writing legislation, and you rarely see them push for certain bills when they're introduced or that early in the process, you might see them praise something, praise a Republican bill after it's passed, but you'll rarely see them support one lawmaker's bill over another. And, so that's inaccurate.

The bill also did not receive support from any of the major Republican leaders in the Senate or the House. So there's that. It's not supported by the party or the party leadership in the legislature.

Secondly, it was not reintroduced. This bill was filed in February 2021, and it is effectively dead for many reasons.

But first and foremost, it has not gone anywhere. And, at the time that Rasheed sent this tweet, at the time he posted it, lawmakers were already adjourned. They are adjourned for the majority of their session. They've done the bulk of their work this year. And this particular bill got no votes in any of the three committees that it bounced around between. And, you might wonder, why is that? Well, it was filed by a pair of Republicans and supported by three others. And when I say supported, I just mean sponsored. They signed on to sponsor it.

And, one of the five was Cabarrus County Republican Larry Pittman, who's sort of a controversial figure in the past. He's compared Abraham Lincoln to Adolf Hitler. And, he is not what I would consider a trendsetter in the state legislature or even on just the House side. He's on the, I think it's fair to say, the far right wing of even the Republican Party there. So, no, the bill is not supported by the North Carolina GOP in the literal sense or in the sense that it might have broad support.

And, it was not just reintroduced. It was introduced in February 2021 and it has not gone anywhere. And lawmakers are gone. They've already adjourned. This bill's effectively dead.

Terry: Paul, remind us what’s the law regarding abortion in North Carolina right now?

Specht: Well, there has been a law on the books for decades now that bans abortion at 20 weeks with exceptions for medical emergencies. And it's important to point out there are not many abortions that happen after the 20-week mark, but this law has not been enforced, in part because it's been held up in court as unconstitutional. Now that Roe v. Wade, its precedent was overturned.

Republicans in North Carolina are pushing the attorney general to start enforcing that again, and he has said he will not. Attorney General Josh Stein has said he will not enforce that old law. And so that's sort of where we stand at this stalemate over this 20-week ban.

Now, Republican leaders Phil Berger and State Senate Speaker Moore have said they're going to take a look at new abortion rules next year. If they gain a supermajority, say, in this year's elections, they will be able to pass new abortion laws next year and potentially override any veto from Gov. Cooper, obviously a Democrat. So, that's where we are.

Terry: How did you rate Rashid’s claim?

Specht: We rated it mostly false, two reasons up top that we already mentioned. It wasn't the North Carolina GOP that supported this bill. It wasn't even a majority of Republicans. It wasn't even Republican leadership. It was just a handful of Republicans whose bill went nowhere.

Secondly, their bill was not reintroduced. When this tweet was posted, lawmakers were adjourned and it's 17 months old. It was introduced in February of 2021, and it's gone nowhere. So, it's effectively dead.

And, then there's one more thing to consider, sort of a strike three, if you will, with this tweet. It omits the fact that Pittman's bill calls for a constitutional amendment. Well, all constitutional amendments, if passed by the legislature, must be approved by the voters.

And. so even if lawmakers were to somehow pass this proposal, it would still get put on the ballot and North Carolina voters would get a chance to vote it up or down. And, based on polling that WRAL has done, that other polls that we've seen across the state, it seems very unlikely that voters would approve of a law that defines life at conception.

Of course, this is just what the numbers tell us. You never know. But that's another very important key piece of information that's missing from Rashid's tweet.

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Marshall came to WFAE after graduating from Appalachian State University, where he worked at the campus radio station and earned a degree in communication. Outside of radio, he loves listening to music and going to see bands - preferably in small, dingy clubs.