RALEIGH, N.C.—North Carolina became the latest state to enter the abortion fray Wednesday. Following moves by Texas and Ohio, the state Senate voted 29-12 to direct state health regulators to change abortion center rules so they’re similar to those for ambulatory surgery centers.
Though some of the regulations have previously passed the state House, the Senate’s abortion regulations appeared Tuesday night as part of an unrelated bill preventing judges from using foreign law, like Sharia, while officiating family courts. The move was apparently a surprise to everyone except Senate Republicans.
Among the provisions in the bill:
- The state’s 16 abortion centers would have to be upgraded to meet the facility standards of ambulatory surgical centers, including having transfer agreements with local hospitals. Only one reportedly meets those guidelines.
- A doctor would have to be present at all abortion procedures, including those that involve taking prescribed pills.
- All healthcare professionals, not just doctors and nurses, would have freedom of conscience.
- Sex-selective abortions would be prohibited.
- Taxpayer dollars would not fund abortions through insurance at any level of government—including the Affordable Care Act—except in cases of rape, incest, and the life of the mother.
Bill supporters say the new facility restrictions are in accordance with the recommendations of the Pennsylvania grand jury that investigated Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell. “We’re not here today taking away the rights of women,” Sen. Warren Daniel said. “What we’re taking away is the rights of an industry to have substandard conditions.”
Democratic Sen. Ben Clark accused Republicans of hiding behind Gosnell to restrict access to abortion. Two N.C. centers Republicans cited as examples of the need for reform failed existing state law. “We have a remedy for that,” Clark said. “Put them out of business.” When it came to taxpayers and government insurance, Sen. Earline Parmon said, “My opinion about another woman’s body should not count.”
Republican Sen. Trudy Wade countered, arguing charities exist to help low-income women afford abortions. She also noted the one N.C. clinic that has a hospital transfer agreement uses it as a marketing tool.
This is the state’s first Republican majority in more than a century. Hundreds of protesters have held two months of weekly protests decrying conservative policies they say hurt the poor. Parmon reminded the chamber the state just let unemployment benefits end for 70,000 of the state’s long-term unemployed. “Life does not stop at birth,” Parmon said.
According to the Raleigh News & Observer, at least 500 protesters showed up after just one night’s notice, filling the gallery and spilling outside. Protesters waved their hands in what they called "silent cheering,” remaining largely silent until after the vote, chanting “shame” as they left. Security arrested one woman when she screamed “Shame on you!” after being told to leave.
Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca said Democrats rammed their own legislation through the chamber for years, but Republican Gov. Pat McCrory said in his statement the legislative procedure “was not right then, and it is not right now.”
McCrory said last year he would not sign new abortion restrictions, but he has declined to comment during the current legislative process. Republicans have veto-proof majorities in both chambers, however. The bill now heads to the N.C. House.
Read the current text of the six-page law here.