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Planned Parenthood plans 'unprecedented' $10M North Carolina campaign as abortion battles loom

Rebecca Todd Peters, a religious studies professor at Elon University, speaks during a Planned Parenthood news conference in Raleigh.
Colin Campbell
Rebecca Todd Peters, a religious studies professor at Elon University, speaks during a Planned Parenthood news conference in Raleigh.

The abortion rights group Planned Parenthood announced Thursday that it plans to spend $10 million on North Carolina's election this year — double what the group spent in the 2022 election.

Deputy director Emily Thompson says their focus is the governor's race because Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson wants more abortion restrictions.

"Our mission is clear: We have to defeat Mark Robinson and his anti-abortion allies in the legislature this November in order to protect access for North Carolinians and for people across the South," Thompson said at a news conference Thursday. "North Carolina is one of only two states where you can access abortion after six weeks of pregnancy in the entire region. So, abortion access is definitely at stake in North Carolina, but across the South because of the lack of access."

Planned Parenthood's campaign is focused on four urban counties: Wake, Mecklenburg, New Hanover and Buncombe. The group plans to spend on digital advertising and a door-to-door canvassing campaign with the goal of speaking to a million voters.

Robinson spokesman Mike Lonergan said the support for abortion from the Democratic candidate, Attorney General Josh Stein, is "extreme and out of step with our state’s values." Stein has said his preference is to codify the "Roe v. Wade framework" in North Carolina, which would make abortions legal up to the point of "viability," typically around 24 to 28 weeks.

While Robinson has previously said that if he "was the governor and had a willing legislature, we could pass a bill right now that says you can’t get an abortion in North Carolina for any reason," Lonergan said Thursday that the lieutenant governor wants to see additional restrictions beyond the ban on most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy that passed the legislature last year.

"He’s said that as governor he would sign a heartbeat bill with exceptions for rape, incest and when the life of the mother is in danger," Lonergan said. "Lt. Gov. Robinson also wants to turn North Carolina into a destination state for life by doing more to support women that choose life, like improving our foster-care and adoption systems, and preserving access to IVF.”

Robinson has said that he and his wife chose to have an abortion in 1989, the year before they got married; he hasn't disclosed the stage of pregnancy when that occurred. Lonergan noted Thursday that Robinson "is pro-life because of the painful and difficult experience he and his wife had, and his faith."

Republican legislative leaders have said they don't plan to pass additional abortion restrictions in this year's legislative session, which began this week, but they've left open the door to consider further legislation in 2025.

"If we don't take these threats to abortion access seriously, it will only get worse," Dr. Abby Schultz, an OB-GYN from Durham, said at the Planned Parenthood news conference. "My patients should be able to make the decision that's right for them. The government should never force a person to carry a pregnancy or give birth against their will."

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.