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GOP front-runner for North Carolina governor supported banning abortions without exceptions. Now he avoids using the ‘a-word’

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, the state’s second highest-ranking elected official and its leading Republican candidate for governor in 2024, once hailed banning abortion as his top priority, advocating for its complete ban without exceptions.

“For me, there is no compromise on abortion. It makes no difference to me why or how that child ended up in that womb,” he said in July 2020 while campaigning for lieutenant governor.

At the time, Robinson was a political newcomer, having built his campaign off his work as a conservative influencer espousing support for gun rights, law enforcement and “protecting the life of the unborn.”

Now, as the 2024 GOP front-runner for governor, Robinson avoids mentioning abortion on the campaign trail, claiming recently that he stopped using what he calls the “a-word,” preferring instead to use the word “life.”

He’s also softened his position. Robinson denies ever supporting abortion bans without exceptions, publicly stating that he has always struggled with the issue and confirming that he once paid for an abortion for his then-girlfriend, now-wife in the 1980s, an experience he says he fully regrets.

But in comments reviewed by CNN’s KFile dating back to 2018, Robinson regularly labeled abortion as “murder” and “genocide,” comparing the anti-abortion movement to the abolitionist movement to end slavery. He also baselessly speculated that the founders of Planned Parenthood were satanists who practiced witchcraft.

Robinson characterized women who undergo abortions, even if they are just “24 hours pregnant,” as murderers.

Robinson’s current position, his office has said, is support for so-called “heartbeat” legislation, which could ban abortion after a “heartbeat” is detected — but with exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother.

If victorious in this year’s election, Robinson would be the first Black governor in the state’s history.

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson speaks during a press conference in Raleigh on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. - Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer/Tribune News Service/Getty Images
North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson speaks during a press conference in Raleigh on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. - Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer/Tribune News Service/Getty Images

Rhetorical shift post-Dobbs

Robinson’s rhetorical shift has come since the Supreme Court’s landmark 2022 Dobbs decision to overturn the right to an abortion established in Roe v. Wade, and as North Carolina passed its own controversial 12-week abortion ban last May, with Republican lawmakers overriding the Democratic governor’s veto.

The North Carolina law went into effect in July and restricts abortion access from the previous limit of 20 weeks down to 12 weeks, limits medication abortion to 10 weeks, and requires patients to meet in-person with a physician at least 72 hours before the procedure. It does have exceptions for cases of rape and incest through 20 weeks and “life-limiting” fetal anomalies through 24 weeks.

As state Republicans finalized their abortion bill last year, Robinson declined to comment on the legislation at the time. “I’m tired of talking about abortion. I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” he said in May 2023, according to WFAE.

In July, Rolling Stone reported on audio of Robinson saying he tries not to use the word abortion anymore.

“North Carolina needs to become a destination state for life. Now notice what I said: I said ‘life.’ I did not say the a-word. The a-word. Everybody wants us to say the a-word,” he said.

Robinson is no stranger to controversy. As CNN’s KFile previously reported, he mocked and attacked the Parkland school shooting survivors. The Greensboro native also attacked the Civil Rights movement, lamenting that “so many freedoms were lost,” and criticized the historic Woolworth lunch counter sit-in protests in 1960 that originated in his hometown.

As the 2024 election nears, abortion remains a driving factor in the gubernatorial race.

Democrats in the state, and the campaign of the Democratic front-runner for governor, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, have often pointed to comments Robinson made in February in which he talked about the political realities of abortion bans.

“If I had all the power right now, let’s say I was the governor and had a willing legislature, we could pass a bill saying you can’t have an abortion in North Carolina for any reason,” he said in a February 2023 radio interview. “Would that stop abortions? No. People would get in their car, they’d go to Georgia, they’d go to South Carolina. They would go to Virginia, they’d go wherever they could. They’d get pills online. Passing a law is one thing, I’d love to pass a law. I’d love to see a ‘heartbeat bill’ proposed in our legislature.”

At a public event in August, Robinson said he didn’t recall making statements in support of a total ban on abortion and said that he always struggled on the issue. And on a podcast in April, Robinson expressed a commitment to not governing based on his “personal religious belief.” He stressed the importance of reaching a consensus on anti-abortion legislation.

“I would love to see abortion outlawed, make no qualms about that. I don’t believe in abortion under any circumstances,” Robinson said. “Being an elected official, I don’t rule by my opinion, and I don’t rule by just what I think.”

Michael Lonergan, a spokesperson for the Robinson campaign, told CNN, “Lt. Gov Robinson has publicly supported legislation that would limit abortion after a heartbeat is detected, with protections for extreme situations such as rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in danger.”

‘Truly from the pit of hell’

Given Robinson’s rhetorical shift on abortion, his previous statements on the topic look particularly harsh.

In January 2019, as New York was passing a law allowing abortion past 24 weeks in cases where a woman’s life was at risk or the fetus was non-viable, Robinson took to Facebook, condemning abortion as “child sacrifice.” Specifically targeting then-Governor Andrew Cuomo, he went as far as to describe Cuomo’s beliefs as being “truly from the pit of hell” and said, “Satan must be his muse.”

That sort of rhetoric was typical for Robinson, who first saw his breakout in politics in 2018 after a speech he gave in support of gun rights went viral following the Parkland school shooting. The video launched a career as a conservative media personality for Robinson, who previously served in the Army Reserve and worked in furniture manufacturing.

In speeches and interviews that followed as his star rose, Robinson was frank about his views on abortion.

“I’m convinced that Margaret Sanger and all of her contemporaries that followed her, they were witches, all of ‘em,” Robinson said of the founder of the American birth control movement on a podcast. “They were witches. I have no doubt. It would not shock me one bit if they were not satanists involved in witchcraft.”

“Who else would come up with the solution, that the only solution to keep people from having unwanted pregnancies is to kill the unborn,” he added. “It’s an idea straight from the devil.”

Running for lieutenant governor in 2020, Robinson did not shy away from his belief. That year, he responded to a survey from American Family Association Action, a socially conservative group, and said abortion should not be allowed under any circumstances.

When asked at a “Life Wins” event in September 2020 if there were any circumstances in which abortion would be OK, Robinson responded, “I do not believe so.”

“When it came to slavery, we had to end slavery for the cause of liberty,” he added. “And we have to end abortion for the cause of life.”

In a speech at an anti-abortion event in January 2021, Robinson called abortion providers the “butchers of humanity,” and condemned abortion as murder.

“A lot of people tell me, ‘Don’t say abortion is murder,’” he said. “Guess what? Abortion is murder.”

In a July 2021 speech to a church, Robinson labeled women who receive abortions murderers as well.

“You know, I ain’t supposed to say this, but I’m going to say it,” he said. “I don’t care whether you just got pregnant. I don’t care if you’re 24 hours pregnant. I don’t care if you’re 24 weeks pregnant. I don’t care. If you kill that young’un. It is murder. You got blood on your hands.”

Admitting a past abortion

Despite this rhetoric, in early 2022 CNN affiliate WRAL uncovered a Facebook post from 2012 in which Robinson said he paid for an abortion in 1989. He later confirmed that the abortion was for his then-girlfriend and now-wife, Yolanda Hill Robinson, in a Facebook video in March 2022.

“Before we were married and before we had kids, we had an abortion. It was the hardest decision we have ever made, and sadly, we made the wrong one,” he said, addressing the camera in the Facebook video. “This decision has been with us ever since. It’s because of this experience and our spiritual journey that we are so adamantly pro-life,” he said.

A week after Roe was overturned in June 2022, Robinson expressed his goals to make sure North Carolina had the strictest abortion laws in the country.

“Now abortion, you all know how I feel about abortion,” Robinson said in a speech posted on Facebook.”

“I want North Carolina to be the most pro-life state in the nation. Hands down. Abortion is murder. It’s a scourge on this nation. It needs to go.”

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