RALEIGH, N.C.—The North Carolina House took up the state’s controversial abortion bill this morning in a special committee hearing. The hearing gave the first look into what the state’s Republican-led House might do after the Senate sneakily voted last Wednesday to direct state health regulators to change abortion center rules so they’re similar to those for ambulatory surgery centers.
Dozens of people clogged the building’s hallways more than an hour before the meeting began. Luckily for security, the supporters and opponents were color-coordinated: pro-abortion in pink and pro-life in baby blue. The colors allowed security to organize the crowd to ensure equal representation for both sides.
Committee members did not vote on the legislation today because it was a special public hearing. But the full House likely will vote on the bill in the next 48 hours. It can approve the Senate version and send it to Gov. Pat McCrory, or vote it down and craft a compromise bill.
Some of the provisions already approved by the House were not discussed today and likely will be in whatever bill reaches the governor’s desk. Those provisions include:
- All healthcare professionals, not just doctors and nurses, would have freedom of conscience.
- Taxpayer dollars would not fund abortions through insurance.
- Sex-selective abortions would be prohibited.
The debate this morning raged over requiring the state’s 16 abortion centers to meet the facility standards for ambulatory surgical centers, including having transfer agreements with local hospitals.
The ACLU and Planned Parenthood have challenged this aspect of a law in Wisconsin because it means upgrade or shut down. Only one of North Carolina’s 16 abortion centers would meet the new standards, meaning many could close. But supporters say the bill is about women’s health. “It is not our goal to shut down clinics,” said Rep. Ruth Samuelson, who sponsored the bill. “It is our goal to make them safer.” Pro-abortion advocates, though, are adamant the bill is a veiled attempt to close centers.
New Republican Gov. Pat McCrory is trying to be as conciliatory as possible, urging lawmakers Monday to spend more time considering the bill’s effects before voting: “Parts of the bill deal with safety, but I also see parts of the bill that clearly cross the line into restrictions.” The governor promised last fall during his campaign he would not pass new abortion restrictions.
While the sides disagree on whether current law is adequate, all sides found common ground on one point. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos pointed out regulations for abortion centers have not been updated since 1995, and inspectors are so understaffed that it could take up to five years between inspections.
If the bill is passed as is, McCrory may have to make a decision based on his perception of the bill’s authors’ intent. But with veto-proof majorities in both chambers, the governor’s decision could mean little.