Although the North Carolina U.S. Senate race may be drawing the most attention, the 2022 midterm elections will also determine control of the North Carolina General Assembly and, potentially, the future of abortion access in North Carolina.
Republicans need just three more seats in the state House of Representatives and two more seats in the state Senate to obtain a veto-proof supermajority. If Republicans are able to secure this supermajority, they will be able to overturn Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto without support from Democrats.
Andy Jackson, director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity at conservative think tank John Locke Foundation, co-authored a September report on Republicans' chances of winning a supermajority in the N.C. General Assembly. In this report, he identified key races that may determine control of the N.C. General Assembly.
Jackson said key issues for the midterm elections will be the economy, inflation, and the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“You've got all these different issues that you're concerned about but you only have one vote for each office,” he said. “So the question is, which of those are going to be the most salient for you as you go in and vote?”
For UNC senior Megan Wagner, the president of UNC Young Democrats, the most important issue informing her vote is the Dobbs decision and abortion access.
Wagner said she has heard Democrat leaders say this election is a referendum on the U.S. Supreme Court and said she sees this same energy in the students she registers to vote on campus.
“Everyone at one time is like, ‘We have to do something because if they can do this, what else can they do?’” Wagner said.
North Carolina currently has a 20-week abortion ban, and Wagner said she is concerned that Republicans will be able to pass more restrictive abortion bans if they win the supermajority. She is also worried about the right to gay marriage, as well as increased Republican control in education.
“All of that sounds very scary to me and I'd like it to stay far away from North Carolina,” she said.
Jackson said he sees this election as an assessment of the party in power.
Laura Macklem, press and political director of the Christian, pro-life lobbying organization NC Values Coalition, said that the economic consequences of the Biden Administration policies will drive voters.
The Dobbs decision has pulled some moderate voters who might otherwise have used the election as a referendum on the party in power back towards Democrats, according to Jackson.
Abortion access post-midterms
Jillian Riley, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic in North Carolina, said Republican leaders in the N.C. General Assembly have already indicated intent to introduce an abortion ban in January.
“So, if Republicans regain a supermajority this November, we can expect a ban or severe restrictions on abortion in early 2023,” she said.
She said leaders have discussed different gestational bans, but Republicans ultimately seek to eliminate abortion access altogether.
Riley said voters need to protect Cooper’s power to veto restrictions on abortion care and attacks on other fundamental freedoms including voting rights, LGBTQ+ equality and immigrant rights.
Jackson said he believes that over the next few election cycles, lawmakers will argue until they reach an uneasy compromise on abortion — a compromise pro-choice advocates will consider too restrictive and pro-life advocates will see as inadequate.
“Clearly, at least for a segment of base Republicans, getting abortion legislation passed in the near term is a priority,” Jackson said.
He said he expects to see a 15-week ban in North Carolina with exceptions for rape, incest, and endangerment to the life of the mother. Jackson also said Republican candidates in purple districts will be unlikely to go for more restrictive legislation because it could endanger them politically in 2024.
Macklem said that NC Values Coalition would like to see the strongest possible protections for unborn children and is hopeful for a heartbeat bill, but that it is ultimately up to legislators.
“It's important to get a supermajority because the left’s position is so extreme,” Macklem said.
UNC senior Amy Lawson, a member of Students for Life at UNC who identifies as an independent, said candidates need to do more than label themselves pro-life. Candidates need to address causes of abortion — like sexual exploitation, poor sexual education and inadequate Medicaid access — before further restricting it, she said.
“Abortion is a symptom of deeply-rooted issues that plague our country and in order to truly abolish abortion, we need policies that will address the root causes and provide alternatives,” she said.
Jackson said other motivators for Republicans to secure a supermajority include concerns that Democrats will push for more taxes, more spending and “an expansion of government regulation in various aspects of people’s lives.”
Riley said that abortion is healthcare and that the decision should stay between a pregnant person and their doctor, family and confidants.
“We think that any ban on a person's body — controlling a person's body — is going to be detrimental to their health and to their future,” she said.
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