RALEIGH, N.C.—Pro-life supporters smiled and hugged. Pro-abortion advocates held thumbs-down signs in front of sullen faces. While the spectator’s gallery slowly cleared, Jimmy John’s and Domino’s delivery boys brought in the session’s final snack as legislators joked about continuing the evening meeting outside, under the sunset. It had been a long, hard session and a tiring battle.
Thursday evening brought an end to a complicated, three-week saga that saw new abortion policies shoved into Sharia law and motorcycle bills. Thursday also brought the end to a whirlwind, veto-proof session for North Carolina Republicans, in power for the first time in a century. About 7 p.m., the Senate finally passed the new abortion restrictions by a party-line vote of 32-13.
The crowd in the gallery was thin compared to previous debates. Few more than organizational leaders came to show tired faces of either relief or disgust. During that final hour of debate—its outcome assured in the veto-proof chamber—legislators fought for the last word. Democrats called the bill “detrimental,” Republicans called it “common sense.”
The bill directs the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to make abortion facilities comply with restrictions similar to ambulatory surgical centers, while not “unduly restricting access.” But Sen. Earline Parmon brought out a plastic coat hanger as Democrats continued to claim the bill will be used to close all but one of the more loosely regulated centers. Parmon paraphrased 2 Samuel 23:3, calling for “justice.”
“Ma’am, these are surgeries,” Republican Sen. Thom Goolsby replied. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with protecting women, as long as this bill is followed and it does not unduly restrict access. … Somehow you all can’t read the law.”
Throughout the debate, Republicans maintained that abortion center regulations hadn’t been updated since the early 1990s and repeated violations showed the need for change.
The bill also extends the right of conscience to all health professionals to refuse to participate in an abortion procedure. Sen. Angela Bryant, a Democrat, said the bill places constitutional rights of religion against Roe v. Wade. She claimed she believed they both had equal weight, but that the state’s bill was out of balance: Allowing someone to refuse to “do their job” when a woman wants an abortion is “unfair to women.”
Other provisions prohibit taxpayer money going to abortions in insurance plans at any level of government, including the private plans subsidized in Obamacare exchanges. That drew ire from Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Democrat, who also claimed Roe v. Wade’s right to privacy overrules the bill’s provision prohibiting sex-selective abortion. The bill is “invading upon that privacy to have a doctor interrogate [a woman] about the reason for abortion.” A woman’s reason, he said, is her “personal right.”
Republican Gov. Pat McCrory has said he will sign the bill, since the current version includes the “unduly restricting access” clause. He made a promise in his campaign not to pass any new abortion restrictions. Democrats don’t buy it, though, sending him 35,000 signatures asking him to veto. “I hope the governor has a Webster’s dictionary at the capitol and that he’ll use it,” Sen. Mike Woodard said.
Pro-abortion activists planned a candlelight march to the governor’s mansion in the breezy summer sunset, but cancelled after only about 20 people came to participate. It was the last day of the session, and the Senate continued until well after midnight. While future litigation over the measures seems likely, the tired pro-life advocates were happy for a legislative win.