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North Carolina Democrats center abortion as GOP eyes a supermajority

State Rep. Terence Everitt (D) shared his family’s experience with abortion on the campaign trail in the final stretch before Election Day

North Carolina state Rep. Terence Everitt (D) shares his and his wife's personal experience with abortion in Raleigh, N.C., on Sept. 28. (Justin Kase Conder for The Washington Post)

RALEIGH — At a recent campaign event, North Carolina state Rep. Terence Everitt (D) told a very personal story, one he has only begun sharing publicly in the last few months.

“I’ve yet to get through this” without tearing up, Everitt told the dozens of women gathered to hear from Democrats on the ballot.

In a halting voice, Everitt spoke about his wife’s 2007 miscarriage and the surgery she needed to have the a dead fetus removed — a procedure also used during abortions.

If she’d needed the same medical treatment in a state with strict abortion restrictions, Everitt said his wife might have faced intrusive questions. In some states with bans, women who miscarry have reported struggling to find doctors who will remove the fetus, because they’re worried about violating state law. “Nobody should be investigated on that day,” he said.

In the closing weeks of the campaign, Everitt has spoken about his wife’s procedure more and more often, a sign that he and other Democrats believe abortion access is a winning issue on the trail. Recent polling suggests abortion access is one of the most important issues for Democratic voters in this competitive state.

And Democrats have argued that if Republicans regain a supermajority in the state legislature, they will tighten restrictions in one of the last southern states to allow the procedure with few limitations. “It’s pretty clear that the ability of women to get reproductive care in North Carolina, and even across the southeast, will depend on a handful of competitive state legislative races here in North Carolina,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said in an interview with The Washington Post.

The governor has been promoting campaign ads supporting Democratic candidates like Marcia Morgan, who is running for state senate in the seventh district, that urge voters to rally behind left-leaning candidates to stop a Republican approach to abortion policy that Cooper calls “cruel and extreme.”

After the Supreme Court struck down the protections to abortion enshrined in Roe v. Wade, North Carolina’s governor promised to defend access in his state. But if Republicans flip two state senate seats and three state House seats, they will regain the supermajority that the party lost in 2018. With that, Republicans could override Cooper’s veto on a number of issues — including abortion.

Abortion is now banned in these states. See where laws have changed.

GOP leaders have indicated that they would move to strengthen North Carolina’s restrictions. State Republicans have in recent years proposed and attempted to enact limits to abortion access, including a “heartbeat” ban in early pregnancy. In 2021, Cooper vetoed a bill to ban abortions sought for certain reasons, including the fetus’s race, sex or a disability diagnosis. Republicans argued that the bill would make “eugenic abortions” illegal, but Democrats opposed requiring patients to offer rationales to terminate a pregnancy.

Senate leader Phil Berger (R) has said he supports a ban on the procedure after the first trimester. House Speaker Tim Moore (R) favors a six-week ban. Fred Von Canon, Everitt’s opponent in the race to represent Wake Forest, told The Post that he supports a ban beginning when cardiac activity can be detected at around six weeks, with exceptions for victims of rape and incest and for the life of the mother.

But many Republicans in the state, including Everitt’s opponent Von Canon, have argued that Democrats inaccurately conflate Republican support for an abortion ban with support for restrictions on miscarriage care, treatment of ectopic pregnancies and limitations on birth control.

“These are all ridiculously false claims,” Von Canon said, adding that terminating an ectopic pregnancy or performing a dilation and curettage (D&C) procedure to surgically remove a dead fetus after a miscarriage would not be subject to an abortion ban.

Many doctors and abortion rights advocates say abortion bans can deter or complicate treatments for potentially life-threatening pregnancy complications like ectopic pregnancies, even inadvertently, because the medical procedures are identical in medically necessary and elective abortions.

Von Canon and others also argue that Democrats are overestimating how much voters in these districts care about abortion in this race. He said he believes North Carolina voters care more about inflation, public safety and gun rights.

“Abortion is an issue in this election,” Von Canon said in an email. “It’s nowhere near the most important issue.”

But Everitt and others say centering on abortion is a winning message in a state where a little over half of residents want to keep the same level of access to the procedure that existed under Roe.

To do that, Everitt has taken an unusual approach, speaking publicly about his family’s experience with abortion. At campaign events, he shares his family’s experience with terminating an unviable pregnancy shortly after he and his wife were married.

In 2007, as newlyweds excited to grow their family, the Everitts wasted no time in telling all of their friends, family and co-workers as soon as the pregnancy test came back positive. “We already knew names — what we were going to name it if it was a boy or if it was a girl,” his wife, Jennifer Everitt, said.

The first prenatal appointments went well — they could hear the beat of what would eventually become the developing baby’s heart during an ultrasound. Jennifer, who was 30 at the time, had no reason to think she would have any pregnancy complications.

But around the eighth week of pregnancy, Jennifer began to bleed. Soon after, while she was at work, the bleeding got much worse.

Jennifer borrowed $20 from a co-worker to pay for a cab to the hospital. A young doctor found that the baby’s cardiac activity was very weak and told the couple that they would lose the pregnancy.

“It was very emotional,” Jennifer said. “Everything goes through your head: I was so excited. Why is this happening? Can I even have kids? Maybe I never can.”

The doctor offered Jennifer two options: wait for her body to pass the fetal tissue naturally — which could take days or weeks and might still require medical intervention to prevent infection — or get a D&C to terminate the pregnancy immediately.

“For my own physical and emotional well-being, I needed it to be done as quickly as possible,” she said.

The next day, she went back to the hospital to have the D&C that terminated the pregnancy and removed the fetal tissue from her body. “I was glad that it was over at that point,” she said. “I needed to be able for my body to heal, for my mind to heal, so that we could think about getting pregnant again.”

The Everitts said they could not imagine going through the miscarriage under the types of abortion restrictions that already exist in neighboring states. Although her procedure may have been allowed under exceptions made for the health of the mother, Jennifer Everitt said she worries she would have been interrogated by police to suss out the reason for her D&C or denied the procedure by a doctor worried about running afoul of the law, as has happened to women in places like Texas and Wisconsin.

“I didn’t have an investigator coming into my room to say, ‘Did you do something to cause this? Why are you having this procedure?’ ” she said.

Although Jennifer eventually had two healthy babies, she said her later pregnancies were difficult. Three years later, after she had her daughter by C-section, her doctor told her that it would put her life in danger to carry any more pregnancies to term.

“She should not have to wait until her life is truly in danger,” Terence Everitt said. “She should not have to be on life support, or getting oxygenated, or whatever that vague life-of-the-mother language means. We should just ensure her safety.”