Planned Parenthood pours $5M into vital North Carolina races

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Planned Parenthood's political arm announced a $5 million investment Thursday in North Carolina's battleground races as Democrats fight to preserve the governor's veto power in one of the last abortion access points in the Southeast.

Just 32 days from Election Day, with absentee voting now underway, Planned Parenthood Votes and Planned Parenthood Action PAC North Carolina are targeting 14 legislative swing districts with ads, mailings, phone banks and canvassing. The investment is part of an existing $50 million national campaign to protect reproductive rights in nine target states — the largest-ever electoral program in its history.

Abortions are legal in North Carolina until 20 weeks of pregnancy, as of an Aug. 17 federal court ruling. But with Republicans just five seats shy of a supermajority in the General Assembly — three seats shy in the House and two in the Senate — Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's power to veto more stringent abortion restrictions hinges on the November outcome.

As its neighboring states slash abortion access in the months following the June U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, North Carolina has become one of the South's few safe havens for the procedure.

Emily Thompson, deputy director of Planned Parenthood Action PAC North Carolina, said several of the state's races play a critical role in cementing access to life-saving care for patients in the Tar Heel state and those traveling from other Southern states where abortion is already banned.

The committee's chief priority, she said, is preventing a Republican supermajority in the General Assembly by focusing attention and resources on five battleground state Senate races.

“If we don’t elect reproductive rights champions in five key state Senate races, an anti-abortion supermajority will have the votes to ban abortion in North Carolina,” Thompson said. “And if we don’t defend two critical North Carolina Supreme Court seats, we will lose our last line of defense against restrictive state laws designed to rob us of our right to make our own health care decisions.”

In an interview this week, GOP state Senate leader Phil Berger said Democrats' accusations that Republicans would fully ban abortion in North Carolina if they obtain veto-proof majorities are misguided.

Berger said he is not aware of a General Assembly GOP leader who has said they personally support legislation outlawing abortion outright, with no exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the patient.

“They’ve not been able to point to anybody because it doesn’t exist,” Berger said Wednesday. He recently said he preferred approving restrictions on abortions after roughly the first three months of pregnancy.

House Speaker Tim Moore has said he personally supports restricting abortions once an ultrasound first detects fetal cardiac activity — typically about six weeks after fertilization and before many patients know they're pregnant.

In addition to state legislative races, Planned Parenthood is funneling resources into North Carolina's high-profile U.S. Senate contest and two state Supreme Court races, which have become recent magnets for Democratic groups working to protect abortion rights nationwide.

Democrats currently hold a 4-3 majority on the panel, but with two Democratic seats up for grabs this November, Republicans need to win just one to retake control of the high court for the first time in six years. The candidates have largely avoided the topic of abortion, instead pitching themselves as the neutral solution to an increasingly politicized judiciary.

But abortion rights have taken center stage in the intensely competitive U.S. Senate race between Democrat Cheri Beasley and Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, who is endorsed by former President Donald Trump. North Carolina is one of the few states where Democrats have a strong shot at flipping a seat in the narrowly divided chamber, making Beasley’s campaign a crucial component of the party’s plan to codify abortion rights into federal law.

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Associated Press writer Gary Robertson in Raleigh contributed to this report.

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Hannah Schoenbaum is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow her on Twitter at @H_Schoenbaum.

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