More abortion legislation may be headed for General Assembly

New legislation could be introduced in General Assembly this session

relder@newsobserver.comJanuary 19, 2013 

— Proposals to exclude abortion coverage from federal health insurance exchanges and to outlaw abortions based on gender preferences are two pieces of legislation likely to come before the General Assembly this session, a state lawmaker said Saturday.

Although North Carolina has not yet established an insurance exchange program as required by the federal Affordable Care Act, lawmakers already are planning to remove abortion coverage as a potential option, Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam said following his speech at an anti-abortion rally in Nash Square.

“There is a law being drafted to remove abortions from the health care exchange,” the Apex Republican said, adding that such a proposal likely would be introduced in the Senate. He said a “sex-selection” law is another strong possibility.

“In North Carolina you can get an abortion for any reason, including sex-selection abortions,” Stam said. “That’s something we’ve got to deal with.”

Saturday’s North Carolina Right to Life rally and march drew as many as 2,000 supporters to downtown Raleigh, organizers said. The event was organized three days before the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision making abortion legal.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, 24 states already have acted to ban insurance coverage of abortions by state insurance exchanges.

That North Carolina might also do so comes as little surprise to Suzanne Buckley, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina.

“There were 11 anti-choice bills introduced and six laws passed last legislative session, and we expect this session to be even worse,” Buckley said.

Legislators who oppose abortion hold the majority in both the House and the Senate, and Gov. Pat McCrory holds similar views, she noted.

“We no longer have a pro-choice governor, which could make a big difference,” Buckley added.

McCrory has made statements during his campaign indicating he didn’t see a need for further abortion restrictions, and that’s something Buckley would like to “hold him to.”

“We are hoping he will moderate some of the extremist leadership on this issue,” she said.

Spokesman Ricky Diaz reached Saturday would not speculate on the governor’s potential support for abortion-related legislation.

“I can’t comment on something that hasn’t been introduced yet,” Diaz said.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported that 30,952 abortions took place in the state in 2010, the most recent statistics available.

Many of those who attended Saturday’s rally and march would like to see those numbers drastically reduced, according to Barbara Holt, president of North Carolina Right to Life.

“It’s our biggest agenda item, decreasing the number of abortions,” Holt said.

“Abortion is the taking of a human life and that’s our bottom line, saving lives. However, ending abortion depends on the U.S. Supreme Court, and at this point with this court, it can’t be done.”

What can be done, however, are restrictions that make the process harder and more cumbersome in hopes of discouraging pregnant women from seeking abortions.

Laws enacted recently in North Carolina include the Women’s Right to Know Act, which requires a 24-hour waiting period and “informed consent,” including a recitation of every potential medical or psychological risk known to be associated with having an abortion.

The bill also requires that an ultrasound be performed and the pregnant woman given the opportunity to view her unborn child and hear its heartbeat. In addition, information is to be provided about programs and resources that potentially could assist the woman if she changes her mind and decides to have the child. A federal judge has blocked the ultrasound requirement pending the outcome of a lawsuit challenging the law.

Physician Amy Bryant, who provides abortions to women through her Chapel Hill practice, said laws like the Right to Know Act “make it harder for poor women,” but do little to reduce the number of abortions overall.

“I see women from all walks of life, every socioeconomic stratum and every family situation you can imagine,” she said.

She said women seek abortions for a wide variety of reasons, from health-threatening pregnancy complications to pregnancies stemming from sexual assault, and those concerned about their psychological or financial ability to provide for the child. She said waiting periods drive up costs for women who have to travel to another city or county to find an abortion provider.

More than 80 of North Carolina’s 100 counties do not have a local abortion provider, according to NARAL statistics.

“The abortion restrictions passed over the last year or two are nothing but attacks on women’s health and dignity,” Bryant added.

Debate over abortion continues to rage four decades after Roe v. Wade established the legality of abortion on demand.

A Pew Research Center study released last week found 63 percent of those surveyed don’t want the ruling overturned, although 47 percent said they believe abortions are morally wrong.

Thirty-eight percent of Catholics favor outlawing abortion by overturning Roe v. Wade compared with 35 percent of Protestants. Forty-eight percent of Republicans favor it keeping abortions legal compared with 74 percent of Democrats.

The anti-abortion rally in Nash Square drew contingents from Catholic churches and schools from as far away as South Carolina.

Olivia Gans Turner, director of American Victims of Abortion, told the crowd that “telling the truth” about abortion and showing support for “common-sense laws” is the best way to get the anti-abortion message out to the public.

“The truth is that 54 percent of people identify as pro-life – but that doesn’t mean they all think abortion should be illegal,” Turner said. “Many say they approve of it in extreme situations.”

Elder: 919-259-4528

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