NC governor signs executive order protecting abortion access

North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signs an executive order designed to protect abortion rights in the state at the Executive Mansion in Raleigh, N.C. on Wednesday, July 6, 2022. The order in part prevents the extradition of a woman who receives an abortion in North Carolina but may live in another state where the procedure is barred. (AP Photo/Gary D. Robertson).

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order Wednesday shielding out-of-state abortion patients from extradition and prohibiting state agencies under his control from assisting other states’ prosecutions of those who travel for the procedure. 

Cooper joined a growing number of Democratic governors seeking to offer sanctuary in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning abortion protections.

In announcing the executive order, Cooper said he would use his authority over extradition warrants to protect providers and their patients from states that could punish residents who cross state lines to seek abortions. His executive order instructs Cabinet agencies not to comply with law enforcement agencies from other states pursuing information about abortion patients in North Carolina.

“This order will help protect North Carolina doctors and nurses and their patients from cruel, right-wing, criminal laws passed by other states,” Cooper said Wednesday at a news conference alongside Planned Parenthood CEO Alexis McGill Johnson. 

State agencies under Cooper’s control are prohibited from requiring a pregnant employee to travel to a state that restricts abortion access. Cooper also directed the Department of Public Safety to enforce a state law prohibiting any person from obstructing access to an abortion clinic or other health care facility.

Abortions are legal in North Carolina until fetal viability, which typically falls between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. An abortion can be still performed after fetal viability when there is a medical emergency that could result in the pregnant person’s likely death.

Standing with several state legislative candidates, Cooper warned the midterm elections will be crucial in preserving abortion access, as his veto power could be nullified by a Republican supermajority. Republicans are currently three seats shy of a supermajority in the House and two seats shy in the Senate.

“People throughout the Southeast rely on North Carolina as an access point,” Johnson said. “Without Gov. Cooper’s help, without his veto, access for people in North Carolina and South Carolina, Tennessee and the entire region would be devastated.”

North Carolina Values Coalition Executive Director Tami Fitzgerald, who opposes abortion, called the executive order an “election year stunt, contrived to scare women.” She pointed out that state abortion laws have not changed since the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade on June 24.

Cooper, on a Friday call with President Joe Biden and eight other Democratic governors, said North Carolina abortion clinics have already seen an influx of out-of-state patients since the Supreme Court ruling.

Planned Parenthood clinics in North Carolina are scheduled to perform abortions for nearly 200 out-of-state patients this week, comprising one-third of their scheduled appointments, Dr. Katherine Farris of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic said at the press conference. She expects those numbers to increase in the coming weeks.

North Carolina law states it is the governor’s “duty” to arrest and deliver any person charged in another state “with treason, felony or other crime, who has fled from justice and is found in this state.” The executive order says state law gives the governor discretionary authority over whether to fulfill demands of extradition.

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