State Politics

N.C. House approves bill to extend abortion waiting period

After a long and emotional debate, the N.C. House on Thursday passed a bill that would make the state the fourth in the nation requiring women to wait three days before getting an abortion.

House Bill 465 passed 74-45, falling largely along party lines and deep and long-standing fault lines.

Republican Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer of Charlotte told members that her bill, which would extend the waiting period from 24 to 72 hours, “empowers women.”

“We truly believe that this is a bill women who are both pro-choice and pro-life can get behind,” she said.

But Democratic Rep. Tricia Cotham of Matthews said the bill “is not about respect or support for women.”

“The wait period is simply about creating barriers,” she said. “Abortion is a deeply personal decision. …My womb and my uterus are not up for your political grab.”

The House debate came after Democratic legislative leaders accused Republicans of ignoring economic development policies in favor of social issues such abortion and religious freedom.

“Republicans have doubled down on their social agenda,” Asheville Democratic Sen. Terry Van Duyn said at a news conference, calling GOP lawmakers “consumed by divisive issues.”

The abortion bill now goes to the Senate. If enacted, North Carolina would join Missouri, South Dakota and Utah in requiring a 72-hour waiting period, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy center that supports abortion rights. Overall, 26 states require a waiting period, usually 24 hours.

“Seventy-two hours is not asking for too much for something this important,” GOP Rep. Pat McElraft said during the debate. “Why do we not want (women) to have the opportunity to change their minds? Please let women have this opportunity to reach out to pregnancy clinics to guide her … for alternatives.”

The debate turned emotional when Cotham described her first pregnancy several years ago. She said doctors had to induce a miscarriage to save her life.

“My doctor told me that this pregnancy would likely not be viable, and if I did not take immediate action, my life and any hope of future babies would be in extreme danger,” she said. “It was awful, it was painful, and it was sad – and it was personal.”

Opponents argued that the bill demeans women by forcing them to wait longer.

“It’s not about women’s physical health,” said Democratic Rep. Verla Insko of Chapel Hill. “This bill promotes the most disparaging of all stereotypes of women, (that) they’re irrational and they can’t make decisions.”

Besides extending the waiting period, the bill also tightens reporting requirements for doctors who perform abortions after 18 weeks. Among other things, they would have to provide state officials with ultrasound images.

Supporters have said because they believe many such later-term abortions go unreported, the measure could reduce the number. For some, that appeared to be a goal.

“Once conception occurs, you’re talking about the rights of two human beings,” said GOP Rep. Debra Conrad of Winston-Salem. “I want to hear about the rights of these young babies.”

Rep. Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat, said the bill was just the latest in a series of actions over the last five years to reduce abortions. “It is nothing short of constitutional evisceration by 1,000 cuts,” he said.

The vote came a day after a House committee endorsed the bill along party lines and heard from the public. But a Planned Parenthood spokesman called the hearing, dominated by bill supporters, a “sham.” The bill was supposed to go to another committee but went instead to the floor.

“This disregard for the legislative process, coupled with the Health Committee’s decision to deny equal time to both sides on such a critical issue to women’s health, further proves these anti-women’s health politicians will stop at nothing to chip away access to safe and legal abortion,” said Melissa Reed, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.

Morrill: 704-358-5059