People gather to protest against the US Supreme Court's decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health case on June 24, 2022 in Raleigh, North Carolina ( Getty / AFP / Allison Joyce)

Failed North Carolina abortion bill misleadingly shared online

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Social media posts claim North Carolina legislators recently introduced a bill that would charge abortion seekers with first-degree murder and legalize violence against those who attempt to undergo or perform the procedure. This is misleading; while the bill is real, it was proposed in February 2021 and did not advance out of committee after receiving little support from state lawmakers.

"Republicans in North Carolina just introduced a bill that'd make abortion punishable with death. So very pro-life of them," says a July 18, 2022 tweet from Santiago Mayer, founder of Voters of Tomorrow, a nonprofit seeking to engage young people in politics and government.

In a response to the tweet, which generated more than 100,000 likes and 20,000 retweets, Mayer included an image of North Carolina HB 158. The bill proposed abortion at any stage be considered first-degree murder and authorized using deadly force to stop someone from terminating a pregnancy.

Screenshot of a tweet taken July 21, 2022

Similar posts were shared on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Though clearly labeled as a bill from 2021, it sparked new interest on social media after tweets incorrectly claimed the legislation was "just introduced" in the wake of a June 2022 US Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that made abortion a right nationwide.

The North Carolina bill was introduced in February 2021 by Republican Representative Larry Pittman. It received little support from state legislators.

Pittman, who has said he will not seek reelection, did not immediately respond to AFP's request for comment.

Two days after his initial tweet, Mayer said in a Twitter thread that the bill is not a new proposal.

Asher Hildebrand, associate professor of the practice at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy, told AFP on July 20, 2022: "HB 158, which was introduced in February 2021 by a notoriously extreme representative who is retiring and has received no consideration in the 18 months since, will not be advancing any further in the legislative process."

North Carolina has not prohibited abortion, unlike several US states that banned it following the Supreme Court's decision in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization.

The state permits abortions until fetal viability, a policy protected by executive orders and the vetoes from North Carolina's Democratic governor, Roy Cooper.

Hildebrand said concerns about abortion rights in North Carolina are not misplaced. House Speaker Tim Moore has promised that such restrictions will be "a top priority" in the next legislative session, and Republican state lawmakers are within reach of legislative super-majorities that would allow them to override Cooper's veto power.

"Supporters of abortion rights in North Carolina have ample reason to be alarmed about the possibility that Republicans in the General Assembly will enact additional restrictions in the wake of Dobbs," Hildebrand said.

Steve Greene, a professor of political science at North Carolina State University, called bill HB 158 "performative" rather than an actual attempt to create policy.

"The truth is that state legislators in North Carolina (and everywhere) introduce completely unrealistic bills that they know will go absolutely nowhere all the time," he said. "Should legislators attempt to pass a bill like this it would be very unpopular in North Carolina and almost surely lead to negative political consequences for its legislative supporters."

AFP has fact-checked other claims about abortion here.