State health officials have taken a surprisingly moderate and positive course in proposing new regulations for abortion clinics.
The regulations would split the difference between abortion-rights advocates and right-to-life supporters. They'll make clinics safer and more closely monitored, but they'll not be so onerous as to force any of the state's 15 clinics to close. It's a remarkable proposal that will protect the health of women undergoing abortions but not limit their access to the procedure.
Melissa Reed, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, said the new regulations reflect the state's consulting with the medical community and Planned Parenthood. "We feel like they really made a good faith effort here," she said.
The regulations also fulfill Gov. Pat McCrory's pledge when he signed the 2013 law that calls for the Department of Health and Human Services to revise clinic regulations that had stood unchanged for 20 years. McCrory said his administration would take a measured approach that would not narrow access to abortion.
Abortion-rights supporters were wary that the new rules would be so extreme that they would curtail access under the guise of expanding safety, a tactic used by conservative lawmakers in other states. Abortion-rights advocates call the tougher rules Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP laws.
Tough standards elsewhere
The new laws often require clinics to meet the standards of outpatient surgery centers and be staffed with a doctor with admitting privileges or an alternate arrangement with a nearby hospital. Those requirements are imposed despite abortion's being a generally safe procedure for patients and despite hospitals already having to accept a patient needing emergency care.
In Texas, those requirements have caused about half of the state's 42 clinics to close. Altogether, 26 states have added regulations on abortion providers, a sharp increase from 2000, when only 11 states had such requirements, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
The collegial and moderate approach to new rules in North Carolina has given the state a promising start, but the outcome may be far different. Should more than 10 people object to the rules at a public hearing set for Dec. 19 at DHHS' Dorothea Dix campus in Raleigh, the General Assembly will make a final determination on the rules. That could lead to their becoming significantly more restrictive and raise the possibility of clinics closing because of the expense or other obstacles related to compliance.
Rules could change
The Republican-led General Assembly should not turn a rules review into a crusade against abortion. For one, TRAP laws face legal challenges that could render any North Carolina version moot. For another, right-to-life advocates have recently made significant gains here. Insurance policies purchased in North Carolina under the Affordable Care Act are barred from providing coverage for abortion. The legislature has also blocked chemical abortions using tele-medicine, or what anti-abortion groups call "webcam abortions."
It's also significant that abortions are dropping in the state under current regulations. According to DHHS statistics, there were 22,820 reported abortions in 2013, a 6.6 percent decrease from the 24,439 reported in 2012. It's an even sharper decline from the recent high of 35,088 in 2006.
Women's health clinics that provide abortions also provide access to contraception, sexual education and general health services that reduce abortions and protect the health of women. Forcing some to close would not reduce abortions. It would increase risks to women's health. The legislature should support the sensible measures offered by the McCrory administration.