State Politics

Bill requiring longer wait for abortions closer to NC Senate vote

A measure that would make North Carolina the fourth state to require women to wait three days for an abortion moved closer to a Senate vote Wednesday despite objections from Democrats and abortion rights advocates.

A Senate committee passed the latest version of HB 465 on a party-line vote.

“This is a blatant attempt by the leadership to continue playing politics with women’s health and to further their own extreme agenda,” Democratic Sen. Valerie Foushee of Orange County told reporters. “It’s about one thing, putting legislators between women and their doctors.”

The committee vote came after Republicans turned back a Democratic attempt to strip “common sense criminal reform measures” that they would otherwise support. The provisions had been added to a House-passed abortion bill.

Democratic Sen. Jeff Jackson of Charlotte said the provisions involving sexual assault and child support enforcement were added knowing Democrats would oppose the overall bill that included them along with the extended waiting period for abortions.

“They’re already laying the groundwork for the negative ads they’re going to use in the next campaign,” Jackson told reporters.

The heart of the bill involved extending the wait for abortions from 24 to 72 hours. The committee’s debate resurrected familiar arguments. Supporters argued that three days is appropriate for such a major decision.

“For almost all important decisions in our life, we have a waiting period,” said GOP Sen. Joyce Krawiec of Forsyth County, a Senate sponsor. “When you’re making life-changing decisions, time is always beneficial to all of us.”

Wendy Banister, executive director at a Raleigh pregnancy center, told lawmakers that she sees girls and women who would benefit from the extra time.

“What we see is the time actually empowers women,” she said. “Time allows them to change their minds.”

Critics of the bill said the extra wait would impede access to abortions, particularly for the poor and women in rural areas.

“This bill will reduce access to the very people who need protection,” Dr. Kim Boggess, an obstetrician at the University of North Carolina hospital, told the committee.

At a news conference after the vote, UNC OB-GYN Nancy Chescheir called the 72-hour waiting period “an insult to women.”

Another contentious part of the bill involves a mandatory reporting requirement.

The bill calls for any physician advising or performing an abortion after 16 weeks to document the probable age of the fetus – including an ultrasound – to the Department of Health and Human Services.

While the bill says the information “shall be for statistical purposes only,” critics said it was another way to curtail legal abortions.

“Why do bureaucrats need this information?” asked Democratic Sen. Mike Woodard of Durham. “It’s very simple: This is an intimidation factor.”

Critics also complained about a provision that would only allow a physician certified in obstetrics or gynecology to perform abortions.

The Senate bill voted on was a last-minute substitute for the House bill. Most senators saw it for the first time Wednesday. It could face a full Senate vote as early as Thursday.

In addition to the abortion language, the bill includes parts of at least six other measures, some written by Jackson and other Democrats.

Those provisions:

▪ Expand the definition of statutory rape to cover all children under 15.

▪ Make it easier to collect child support payments through administrative changes.

▪ And create a “Maternal Mortality Review Committee” to recommend ways to prevent deaths from pregnancy or childbirth.

The committee vote lacked much of the passion of the House debate, when Democratic Rep. Tricia Cotham of Matthews described her first pregnancy, when she said doctors had to induce a miscarriage to save her life.

Barbara Holt, president of North Carolina’s Right to Life, told senators the bill is about saving lives.

“Seventy-two hours is a very small amount of time when you’re making a life or death decision,” she said. “We’re talking about the death of an unborn child.”

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.

Morrill: 704-358-5059