RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina's most powerful state senator said Tuesday he would prefer to have approved restrictions on abortion after roughly the first three months of pregnancy.
Senate leader Phil Berger, speaking before convening another round of no-vote General Assembly sessions this week, also said he would support exceptions to any prohibition following the first trimester, such as in situations of rape and incest or when the mother's life is in danger.
The views of Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, would appear to represent a more tempered effort compared to GOP legislators in North Carolina and other states who want to outlaw abortion or dramatically scale it back following a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade.
A federal judge last week reinstated a North Carolina law that prohibits abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy save for urgent medical emergencies. Incest and rape exceptions currently are not granted in state law. The first trimester is usually defined at 12 or 13 weeks of pregnancy.
"I would say that after the first trimester, the state has an absolute interest in regulating the incidence of abortion," Berger told reporters.
House Speaker Tim Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, reiterated Tuesday that he personally supports legislation that would ban abortions once an ultrasound first detects fetal cardiac activity. That's typically around six weeks after fertilization and before some patients know they are pregnant.
The Republican leaders cautioned that their views are theirs alone and the opinions of General Assembly colleagues, constituents and others will have a lot to say about finding a consensus in 2023.
Moore, who also said he supports exceptions for rape, incest and for protecting the mother's life, said he did not want to "interject what I personally believe right now" until the House had a process in place to debate the idea.
"I suspect that we'll be very deliberative and very thoughtful on this legislation," Moore said, adding that he'd also like any final bill to receive support from Democrats. "My hope is that we try to find a way to make it as much as possible a consensus bill."
Moore and Berger have said no potential action on abortion would occur until next year, after a new edition of the 170-member General Assembly takes office in January. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, a strong abortion-rights advocate, has issued vetoes of abortion-related measures that Republicans have been unable to override largely because they've lacked veto-proof margins.
Whether Republicans can enact their preferred abortion restrictions in 2023 probably will depend on whether the GOP can gain in November's elections three additional seats in the House and two in the Senate to regain veto-proof majorities they last held in 2018.
U.S. District Judge William Osteen ruled last week that the Supreme Court decision in June overturning Roe v. Wade erased the legal foundation for his 2019 ruling that had placed an injunction on the state law banning abortions after 20 weeks, which was passed in 1973.
When the injunction was in place, abortions had been legal until fetal viability, which generally falls between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy.
Legislative Democrats and other abortion-rights advocates called last week's reinstatement of the 20-week ban, which Moore and Berger had urged Osteen in a legal brief to order, a first step by the GOP toward eliminating the right to abortion in the state.
Berger said Tuesday he has never supported a total abortion ban and suggested Democrats should be specific about when they believe how late in a pregnancy abortions should be permitted without exceptions.