By Richard Sullins |

A resolution supporting a Texas-style law in North Carolina banning abortions whenever medical equipment can detect a heartbeat within a mother’s womb, as early as six weeks after conception, will be on the agenda when the Lee County Board of Commissioners meets Monday.

The resolution, if passed, would state “the Lee County Board of Commissioners endorse[s] the passage of ‘Heartbeat Bill’ legislation in North Carolina and that this endorsement includes a reporting and verification process consistent with that passed by other States.”

The draft says that North Carolina averages about 27,400 abortions each year “many of which occur after the development of the heartbeat,” although it doesn’t indicate the number of abortions that meet the heartbeat criteria.

One such proposed piece of legislation, House Bill 31, was introduced in the state legislature earlier this year but did not get a public hearing.

Commissioners Chairman Kirk Smith, a Republican, said “there is a movement amongst County Commissioners in North Carolina to support resolutions affirming the ‘Heartbeat Law.’ I placed it on the agenda for Monday’s meeting.”

Beyond the debates over abortion that have been going on for more than half a century, there is particular disagreement over ‘Heartbeat Bills’ because of the uncertainty surrounding the time at which an actual heartbeat begins. The waters are further muddied by the differing types of equipment used to detect a heartbeat and the wildly differing results they produce.

Commissioners don’t often express their opinions on matters of policy that lie outside of their jurisdiction, but they are well within their authority to express opinions on the issues of the day. But when they do, they must be prepared to deal with the fallout.

The proposed resolution was posted on the Commissioners’ website on Thursday in advance of their meeting on this coming Monday, December 13.

This action comes just after the US Supreme Court heard the latest challenge to the Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion in 1973. Court observers believe that these cases, originating in Texas and Mississippi, may constitute the strongest challenge yet to Roe, especially since the balance on the court has swung decidedly conservative with recent appointments.

The Supreme Court heard the Mississippi cases on December 1 and the Texas case this week. Meanwhile, a state judge declared the Texas law to be unconstitutional on Thursday, saying that it should not be enforced but refusing to issue an injunction to block further cases from being filed. The order impacts only the 14 cases filed within the judge’s jurisdiction but could be used as legal precedent for others now on appeal.

State District Judge David Peeples emphasized in issuing the ruling that his decision was not about abortion rights but instead on the enforcement method that the law directs to be used.

The Texas Heartbeat Act allows any private citizen to sue abortion providers or anyone else they suspect of helping a woman to obtain an abortion in civil court. The law goes even further by providing that private citizens are not required to have a connection to the person they are suing.

Peeples said that if the law’s “civil procedures are constitutional, a new and creative series of statutes could appear year after year, to be enforced by eager ideological claimants, who could bring suit in their home counties, where the judges would do their constitutional duty and enforce the law. Pandora’s Box has already been opened a bit, and time will tell.”

No major abortion legislation has passed the state legislature since 2017, when Roy Cooper became governor. He vetoed two bills that would have placed restrictions on abortions and Republicans no longer have the supermajority needed to override a potential veto of a Heartbeat Bill, should one pass.

Also on the agenda for Monday’s meeting are the election of the chair and vice chair of the board for 2022, resolutions recognizing retiring Broadway Police Chief Todd Hinnant, Sanford Fire Chief Wayne Barber, and Lee County Sheriff’s Deputy Randall Butler, recognition of retiring Sheriff Tracy Carter for his years of service to the county, the appointment of Major Brian Estes of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office to serve out the remainder of Carter’s term as sheriff, and agreements regarding Project Frame, a building construction materials company that will create 235 jobs in the county by 2024.

The Commissioners meeting begins 6 p.m. at the McSwain Center on Tramway Road.