North Carolina Senate approves sweeping abortion bill

DURHAM, N.C. -- To cries of "Shame! Shame! Shame!" from outraged women, the state Senate in North Carolina on Wednesday passed a bill that would impose new licensing requirements and other restrictions on abortion clinics.

Hundreds of protesters, most of them women, gathered in the Senate gallery and outside the legislative building in Raleigh as the Republican-led Senate approved the bill, 29 to 12. The measure would require abortion clinics to meet the same medical standards as outpatient surgical clinics.

Republican backers of the bill said it is designed to protect women’s health. Opponents said the measure -- attached Tuesday night without public notice to an unrelated bill banning sharia, or Islamic law, in family law cases -- was a blatant attempt to restrict abortion in the state.

The public outcry over the measure was similar to protests last week in Texas where onlookers cheered state legislator Wendy Davis, who wore pink sneakers as she delayed passage of an anti-abortion bill with a 13-hour filibuster on the state Senate floor.

The North Carolina bill -- the Family, Faith and Freedom Protection Act -- requires abortion clinics to undergo a licensing process similar to outpatient surgical clinics. Specifically, it instructs the state Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that standards at abortion clinics are "similar to those for the licensure of ambulatory surgical centers."

The bill also imposes restrictions on doctors who perform abortions; prohibits abortion coverage by health plans participating in federal healthcare exchanges under the new health law; and allows healthcare providers to refuse to provide abortion-related services.

The bill also requires doctors to be present when women take the drug RU-486, which induces abortions. An amendment to the bill, titled "Protect Men’s Health," would have required a doctor to be present when male patients take "medication for the treatment of erectile dysfunction." The amendment, introduced by Democratic state Sen. Eleanor Kinnaird as a protest, was defeated.

The measure now goes to the state House, also controlled by Republicans.

"We’re not here to take away the rights of women," said state Sen. Warren Daniel, a Republican. "We’re taking away the rights of an industry to have substandard conditions."

Suzanne Buckley, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice N.C., told The Times that only one abortion clinic in the state, in Asheville, could meet the standards imposed by the bill. She said the state has fewer than 16 clinics, located in just 14 of North Carolina’s 100 counties.

Planned Parenthood’s North Carolina branch called the bill a "sneak attack." The advocacy group Planned Parenthood Action said on the group’s Facebook page: "These politicians are using these underhanded tactics because they think women aren’t paying attention – but they couldn’t be more wrong."

Even the state's Republican governor, Pat McCrory, expressed concern about the way the bill was introduced.

"When the Democrats were in power, this is the way they did business," McCrory said in a statement. "It was not right then and it is not right now.... The process must be appropriate and thorough."

In his campaign last year, McCrory said he did not support future restrictions on abortion.

When abortion rights groups heard about the bill’s unexpected introduction Tuesday night, they posted messages on Facebook and Twitter urging women to rush to the Legislature. By Wednesday morning, a crowd of some 600 people, many dressed in pink, overflowed the Senate gallery and spilled outside.

A few anti-abortion activists were also on hand. "We want to protect unborn babies," Amy Huffman of Alamance County Right to Life told the News and Observer of Raleigh.

In a statement, Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the N.C. Values Coalition, called the bill "a great victory for the unborn and for women’s health in North Carolina." She praised the senate for passing a "common-sense bill."

N.C. Right to Life Inc. posted on Twitter: "Protect babies from painful deaths!"

In a statement, Suzanne Buckley of NARAL Pro-Choice N.C. demanded that McCrory veto the bill.

"This package of anti-women bills -- so unpopular they needed to be hidden from the public to have a chance at becoming law -- could close all but one clinic in the state," Buckley said.

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a North Carolina Democrat, said in a statement: "The leadership in the North Carolina General Assembly chose to force this sweeping anti-women's health bill through with no public notice or transparency because they knew it wouldn't stand up to public scrutiny."

In a Twitter post, Hagan added: "As a former state sen. I am appalled ... North Carolinians expect transparency, not procedural tricks."


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