A viral tweet claims "Republicans in North Carolina just introduced a bill that’d make abortion punishable with death. So very pro-life of them.” It has received more than 100,000 likes since it was first posted July 18.
Abortion is currently legal in North Carolina, and the state’s Democratic governor has vetoed all proposed legislation to restrict abortions within the state. Following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Republican leaders have been hoping to reinstate a pre-Roe ban on almost all abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Did lawmakers introduce a bill that would make abortion punishable by death in North Carolina?
North Carolina-based Olsinski Law Firm
Michael Bitzer, Ph.D, a political professor at Catawba College in North Carolina
Yes, lawmakers introduced a bill that would make abortion punishable by death in North Carolina, but it didn’t happen recently. A pair of Republican lawmakers introduced the bill back in 2021, more than a year before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and it stalled almost immediately after it was introduced.
WHAT WE FOUND
According to the North Carolina General Assembly, the bill was introduced in February 2021 by Reps. Larry Pittman and Mark Brody.
The bill seeks to amend the state constitution to recognize life as an individual person “from the moment of fertilization until the moment of natural death.” A person who destroys said life, the bill says, will be accountable for first-degree murder. As a result, any person responsible for the “willful destruction” of “persons, born or unborn,” will have committed a crime punishable by death.
North Carolina punishes first-degree murder, according to the North Carolina-based Olsinski Law Firm, with life in prison or the death penalty.
The language of the bill also leaves open the possibility that a person could legally kill a pregnant person seeking an abortion, an abortion provider or both if the person claims it was done in defense of the fetus, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law told VERIFY.
That's because of a sentence in the bill that says any person has the right to defend "the life of another person, even by the use of deadly force, if necessary, from willful destruction by another person.”
How exactly the language of the bill would have been interpreted by the state's courts, or whether the bill would have used the same language in its final version is unknown — it has never made it to a floor vote, let alone become law.
The North Carolina General Assembly website shows the bill is still in committee, its third referral to a committee since it was introduced. It never made any further progress in any of its previous committees, and has been in its current committee since Aug. 4, 2021.
"It was assigned to a committee," said Michael Bitzer, Ph.D, a political professor at Catawba College in North Carolina. "It has gone nowhere in that committee and is in all likelihood dead for the remainder of whatever sessions the legislature comes back into."
Bitzer explained that it’s difficult to bring legislation in the state house back to life, which would require some kind of hearing or action brought forward.
Both the North Carolina House of Representatives and Senate are Republican-controlled. Although state governor Roy Cooper has pledged to veto legislation that restricts abortion, the state’s Republican legislature have pushed forward abortion bills that were met with his veto. The N.C. Legislative Library lists at least two: one from 2019, and another from 2021, the same year that the bill that would punish abortion by death was introduced and then stalled.
Since the bill seeks to amend the state constitution, it faces greater hurdles to becoming law than an ordinary bill would. The North Carolina Constitution says that three-fifths of both chambers of the state legislature would have to adopt the proposal, which would then be sent to the state’s voters to ratify or reject based on a simple majority. Republicans do not have a three-fifths majority of the state House of Representatives or Senate, although they’re just two senators shy and three representatives shy.
Local news media reported in 2012 that Rep. Pittman, one of the bill’s sponsors, advocated for public hangings of “abortionists” in an email sent to colleagues at the time, and had confirmed that he wrote the email.
“If murderers (and I would include abortionists, rapists, and kidnappers, as well) are actually executed, it will at least have the deterrent effect upon them,” he wrote. “For my money, we should go back to public hangings, which would be more of a deterrent to others, as well.”
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