NC Senate gives preliminary approval to bill restricting abortions

lbonner@newsobserver.comJuly 2, 2013 


A man walks alongside the big state seal at the entrance to the Legislative Building in Raleigh on Jan. 23, 2013, as the legislative session begins.


  • The provisions to which the Senate gave preliminary approval Tuesday:

    • Funding: Prohibits health plans participating in the federal health care exchange from covering abortions. Also says state funds can’t be used for abortions except to save the mother’s life or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. Bans city and county health plans from offering abortion coverage except in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother’s life.

    • Restrictions on doctors: Doctors must remain in the room for the entire procedure whether surgery is performed or the abortion is induced by drugs, called a medical abortion.

    • Limits on clinics: Abortion clinics would have to have transfer agreements with hospitals and would have to go through a licensing process similar to outpatient surgical clinics.

    • Sex-selection: Prohibits doctors from performing an abortion if they know the mother wants the abortion because of the baby’s sex.

    • Protections: Allows any health care provider – not just doctors and nurses – to refuse to provide abortion-related services.

A bill restricting abortions that popped up in the state Senate without public notice Tuesday evening and received swift approval would force clinics to meet expensive license requirements and make it more difficult for doctors to perform the procedures.

Under the bill, which was tacked onto another measure dealing with Islamic law, abortion clinics would have to meet license standards similar to those of ambulatory surgical centers. According to legislative staff, only one clinic in the state currently meets that standard. The state’s four Planned Parenthood clinics don’t meet it. The bill would also require doctors to be present when women take drugs that induce abortions.

The Senate approved the measure with a preliminary vote of 27-14. A final vote expected Wednesday would send the bill to the House, which has already passed some of the provisions included in the bill. It also sets up a sticky situation for Republican Gov. Pat McCrory who said during his campaign that he would not sign laws that further restrict abortions. If it passes, the bill could become law without his signature. McCrory’s office said Tuesday night that it had no comment on the bill.

Sen. Warren Daniel, a Morganton Republican, said the changes are required for women’s safety.

Women “deserve the right to walk into a clinic that’s clean and safe,” he said. He mentioned an abortion clinic in Charlotte that shut down briefly this year because it improperly administered a drug.

Democrats said Republican arguments about safety were a sham, and the real incentive is to restrict abortions.

“This is really about limiting women’s rights,” said Sen. Angela Bryant, a Rocky Mount Democrat.

The proposed abortion restrictions were brought up in a Senate committee meeting at 5:30 p.m. The committee was scheduled to discuss a bill disallowing the use of Islamic law in family matters such as divorce, child custody and alimony. The abortion legislation was attached to that bill.

A few hours later, Senate Republicans voted to waive their rules to allow a floor vote. Lobbyists that supported the bill, including representatives from N.C. Values Coalition, the N.C. Family Policy Council and N.C. Right to Life, were at the committee meeting. Lobbyists opposed to the bill were not told it was being debated.

Outrage among Democrats

Democrats were outraged that the abortion provisions came up without public notice, in the late afternoon, and close to a holiday weekend.

The after-hours maneuvering is one of the reasons the thousands of people who protest at the Legislative Building every Monday feel disrespected, said Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, an Asheville Democrat.

“You’re going to win this debate and feel really good about yourself because you great big gray-haired men beat up on three women,” Nesbitt said, referring to three female Democratic senators who were in the chamber. “Let’s see what you do with 10,000 of them.”

Suzanne Buckley, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, said legislators are trying to sneak through new restrictions they know the public doesn’t want.

“It seems to me that they’re trying to pass under cover of darkness legislation that would not otherwise be passed,” she said. “They’re trying to pull a Texas.”

A Texas state senator’s filibuster helped stop a vote on a sweeping anti-abortion bill in that state last week.

NARAL posted an alert on its Facebook page, telling its supporters to come to the Legislative Building on Wednesday morning “to let them know we are watching.”

Within a few hours, more than 150 people had posted that they’d be traveling to the legislature Wednesday morning.

Some of the proposals in the bill have already passed the House in separate bills, such as a prohibition on sex-selective abortions and another that says health plans offered through the new federal health care exchange can’t cover abortion services. Abortion coverage in city and county employee health plans would be banned unless the procedure is needed to save the life of the mother or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

The provision putting more restrictions on the use of the drug RU486, which induces what are called medical abortions, and the stepped-up requirements for clinics were debated for the first time Tuesday.

In a medical abortion, women take two drugs over the course of three days. It takes up to 24 hours for the second pill to work.

Melissa Reed, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Health Systems, said about half the abortions in the state were done using RU486.

“The intention of the folks that made the changes to this bill is to end access to abortion care in North Carolina,” Reed said. “It’s a wish list of all the restrictions they’ve been trying to get through and weren’t able to during the regular time period of this session. It would end basically access to medical abortion; it could shut down a large number of providers in this state.”

The activity drew the attention of U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan. The Democratic senator tweeted, “As a former state sen. I am appalled at #ncga actions. North carolinians expect transparency, not procedural tricks.”

Bonner: 919-829-4821