As anyone who’s spent much time observing the proceedings at the North Carolina General Assembly can attest, those who issue pleas for more debate on important issues can sometimes have second thoughts later on. While the Legislative Building has seen its share of impressive orators through the years, this is much more of an exception than a rule.
And unlike Congress, where most lawmakers have access to researchers and writers to help them craft their speeches, North Carolina legislators are almost invariably on their own — frequently winging it from the seat of their pants. The result, as you might suspect, is that many such talks can be hard to endure. Conjure up an image of your cranky, partially informed relative holding forth at the Thanksgiving table and you’ll get a pretty good idea of what a lot of these fact- and grammar-challenged orations are like.
Yet, for all their frequent flaws and shortcomings, it must be acknowledged that these speeches are, for the most part, very real and important. While the “yes” and “no” votes they cast are, in most instances, the ultimate measuring stick for officials serving in legislative bodies, there are also times when constituents deserve to hear the reasoning behind those votes — especially when lawmakers stake out new or different positions on matters of great import.
And so it is that North Carolinians in several state legislative districts are entitled right now to know where the people they elected to serve them last November stand on the question of human reproductive freedom and why.
As has been well-publicized, four Republican members of the General Assembly — Reps. John Bradford and Tricia Cotham of Mecklenburg County, and New Hanover legislators Ted Davis in the House and Michael Lee in the Senate — were elected based, at least in part, on a public stance of opposition to further restrictions on abortion rights. If just one of these members were to adhere to that pledge on a vote to override Gov. Cooper’s veto of the recently passed abortion ban, the veto would stand.
And while Cotham’s situation has understandably received the most attention — the longtime Democrat has spoken previously on the House floor of her own abortion experience and her switch to the GOP was so sudden last month that she remains a cosponsor of a bill introduced in January to codify Roe vs. Wade – the stances taken by the others deserve an explanation as well.
As WRAL.com reported last Friday:
- Rep. Bradford told a reporter last October that “I have no intentions myself of going back to Raleigh and trying to make the 20 weeks [the state’s current abortion limitation] more restrictive.”
- At a forum in October, Rep. Davis publicly stated: “I support what the law is right now,” adding “The speaker doesn’t tell me what to do. … I’m going to vote to keep it just the way it is.”
- In an essay published last September, Senator Lee stated that he is opposed to abortion bans in the first trimester of a pregnancy. In a later video he vowed to oppose “an extreme ban on abortion.”
While people may differ over the nature of Senate Bill 20 and, how “extreme” an abortion ban it constitutes, there is no denying that it would bring about a very extreme change in North Carolina law. If the measure is enacted, patients seeking abortion care will face enormous and hugely burdensome hurdles — backstopped by the threat of prison sentences for physicians — that will, as a practical matter, amount to a total ban from the moment of conception.
Perhaps Cotham, Bradford, Davis and Lee have an explanation as to how and why they view support for such a measure to be consistent in some way with what they promised voters last fall. If that’s the case, the least they could do is have the courage to publicly explain themselves – not sit in mute silence on the House and Senate floors staring into space as they cast the deciding votes.
Unfortunately, from what we’ve witnessed thus far, such explanations seem unlikely to be forthcoming – either before or after the override vote.
Like House Speaker Tim Moore, who saw fit to spend the days prior to the override vote — one of the most momentous and freedom-reducing legislative votes in modern state history — pursuing photo ops on the Arizona-Mexico border for a future congressional run, the strategy appears pretty clear and straightforward.
Rather than listening to — much less seriously addressing — the desperate pleas of the patients and doctors whose lives and freedom their ‘yes’ vote will so dramatically and negatively alter, all four lawmakers appear to have opted for the decidedly uncourageous path of keeping their heads down, and counting on short voter memories, dark money donors, and the power of gerrymandering to protect their political hides. If so, it will make a very sad day for North Carolina even sadder.