Abortion bill protest fuses causes, draws national attention to NC

cjarvis@newsobserver.comJuly 3, 2013 

CLARIFICATION: A statement about the NAACP's lack of a position about abortion has been modified at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, July 4, 2013 from what was originally reported.

RALEIGH -- Tuesday night’s surprise abortion vote drew more than 500 angry protesters to the Legislative Building on Wednesday, contributing a new cause to the mostly partisan demonstrations that have attacked the General Assembly’s Republican majority for the past nine weeks.

Organized overnight through social media by women’s health and reproductive rights groups and joined by hundreds of supporters, Wednesday’s protest also fueled the national news media’s newfound discovery of North Carolina politics.

Drawn by more than two months of protests and nearly 700 arrests in response to a variety of legislative issues, national newspapers and TV news programs have gradually turned toward the Tar Heel State. Increasingly, comparisons are being made between North Carolina’s Republican takeover and the protests over an abortion bill in Texas last week and over labor and other issues previously in Wisconsin.

Those political echoes reverberated at the Legislative Building on Wednesday.

House Minority Leader Larry Hall, a Democrat from Durham, told protesters attending the weekly “Witness Wednesday” event sponsored by the NAACP that people outside North Carolina are watching.

“We’re fighting the fight that’s being fought all over the United States now, apparently, and that’s the fight for our rights,” Hall told the group. “This is a fight we thought was already over and we had won.”

The NAACP’s state chapter president, the Rev. William Barber Jr., said each passing week was bringing together a fusion of interests opposed to the GOP lawmakers. He said the NAACP doesn't have a position on abortion, but it supports women's constitutional reproductive rights.

Barber and Melissa Reed, vice president of public policy at Planned Parenthood Health Systems, and some of their members joined forces at the afternoon rally, which drew about 75 people. Barber also picked up on the theme that North Carolina is headed toward a Texas-style of conservatism in state government, which favors less regulation of business.

“Any time North Carolina is more conservative than Texas – Houston, we have a problem,” he said.

Dallas Woodhouse, director of the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity, said he would welcome a move toward Texas politics. “I hope we are; they are No. 1 in job creation, job startups and inbound U.S. migration,” he said. “When the dust settles, a simple course correction will help North Carolina move in a new successful direction.”

Reed said she awoke Wednesday to commitments from 1,000 people to show up at the morning session of the Senate, which took a final vote to approve the abortion bill. While the turnout was closer to half that, the protesters filled the Senate gallery, and several hundred spilled out into the third-floor rotunda and the sidewalks in front of the Legislative Building, a roiling mass dotted with pink shirts.

“I just can’t believe we’re still fighting this battle after 40 years,” said Ann Sides, 67, of Raleigh. “It’s so disappointing. And to have done it in such secrecy shows they’re ashamed.”

Some protesters complained that police confiscated wire clothes hangers that they brought to the building and signs that they had pinned to their shirts. One woman in a pink dress wore a gag across her mouth.

Lost in the crowd were a handful of anti-abortion supporters who showed up to support the bill.

“This is our democracy at work,” said Julie Emmons, an instructor at Elon University and an N.C. Right to Life volunteer. “I’m thankful we can all share our viewpoint.”

After the vote, most of the abortion-rights protesters outside the gallery began chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!” but stopped when a General Assembly officer told them loud and disruptive behavior would get them arrested. A few minutes later, a woman was arrested for shouting “Shame on you!” from the gallery.

Police identified her as Katina Gad, 30, of Raleigh. They charged her with disorderly conduct.

Staff writer Annalise Frank contributed.

Jarvis: 919-829-4576

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