RALEIGH, N.C.—Republican Gov. Pat McCrory will sign the House bill approved Thursday if it reaches his desk. Although McCrory had threatened to veto any legislation restricting abortion, the governor said he did not think the bill created any new limits: “The recent House version allows the medical professionals at the Department of Health and Human Services to write the rules which will ensure women’s safety. I want to thank those who worked on an improved bill which will better protect women while not further limiting access.”
EARLIER STORY: The day began with an emotional, extended standing ovation in the House chamber for three men who saved two lives in a burning North Carolina home. Not long after, a blue-clad, pro-life woman helped a pink-clad, pro-abortion mother prepare formula for her infant in the visitor’s gallery. But by about 1:30 p.m., when the state House of Representatives took up a bill containing controversial abortion restrictions, most of the goodwill had dissipated. Heads began to shake and eyes glared. Down on the floor, lawmakers beseeched, threatened, and pontificated during three hours of debate.
In the end, the Republican-led body passed new abortion regulations by a strong majority, 74-41. The bill now heads to the Senate for confirmation or more changes.
Thursday’s vote came after a whirlwind of political maneuvering to try to avoid Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto threat. On Tuesday, a House committee debated a version of the regulations that might have closed 15 of 16 abortion centers in the state. After McCrory said he couldn’t support the legislation, a House committee tacked a modified version of the regulations onto the “Motorcycle Safety Bill” on Wednesday. Before most lawmakers or protesters knew what had happened, the committee sent the bill on to the full House for a vote.
Thursday’s version of the regulations mostly included the same provisions as before, with one big exception. It directs the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to create regulations for abortion centers that are similar to ambulatory surgical centers—without “unduly restricting access.” The new wording directs regulators not to require anything that applies to services normal ambulatory surgical centers provide that are irrelevant to abortion centers.
But pro-abortion supporters, who wore motorcycle helmets to protest the restrictions’ inclusion in an unrelated piece of legislation, don’t buy the wiggle room lawmakers tried to build into the regulations. They aren’t miffed about the proposed standards as much as they don’t trust the Republicans who will write them. For them, the bill is a ruse to close centers in an underhanded manner. The way Republicans tacked the abortion measures onto the motorcycle bill, with no public notice, only fueled that perception. Rep. Alma Adams criticized the rush: “I recognize this is a motorcycle bill, and they move really fast.”
Some Democratic lawmakers called the bill blatantly “unconstitutional” and “detrimental to women's health.” Rep. Carla Cunningham, referencing another provision, went so far as to say, “Medical abortions are extremely safe and simple, and requiring a physician’s presence would be the equivalent of requiring a doctor to supervise a diabetic injecting insulin.”
More rational Democrats focused on common ground, because the DHHS is so understaffed that medical inspections only occur every 3-5 years. It is enforcement, not regulation, that needs updating, they said. Conservative Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer disagreed, because two centers closed by regulators in the past two months showed a larger trend she said reveals abortionists’ “blatant disregard for standards.” Current standards also “pale in detail and in breadth to what we require of animal shelters,” she said.
Republicans adamantly maintained the bill is about women’s health, and as the state tries to update its standards for the first time since the mid 1990s, any new regulations from the DHHS will have a public comment period. “Women will still have the right to choose,” sponsor Rep. Ruth Samuelson said. “But as a result of this bill, they have the right to make that choice in a safe facility.”
Fellow Republican Rep. Sarah Stevens echoed the safety theme: “I’m sorry if you don’t believe that, but that’s the truth.”