North Carolina Senate approves sweeping abortion bill
RALEIGH -- The North Carolina Senate approved a sweeping abortion bill Wednesday morning that would require abortion clinics to meet new operating standards and require physicians be present when the procedure is performed.
The Senate tentatively approved the legislation late Tuesday after Republicans quietly added it to a bill to prohibit the use of foreign law, such as Sharia Law, in North Carolina courts.
The chamber voted 27-14 Tuesday night for the bill that also would prohibit gender-selective abortions. It passed on third and final reading Wednesday morning 29-12.
The House also would have to approve the measure. Gov. Pat McCrory said last fall he didn't want to sign additional abortion restrictions into law. If the House also approves the bill, it could become law without McCrory's signature if he chooses not to veto it.
McCrory's office did not immediately say Wednesday what he would do if the bill reaches his desk, but he did express his unhappiness in the way it was slipped in at the last second.
"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. Regardless of what party is in charge or what important issue is being discussed, the process must be appropriate and thorough."
The new legislation would direct state regulators to change clinic rules so they're similar to those for ambulatory surgery centers - a move Planned Parenthood says could shut down providers.
Opponents of the measure spoke during the debate Wednesday, questioning how it came to be added to another bill late Tuesday with no notice.
"We should shake our heads in disgrace for trying to pull a fast one," offered Democrat Senator Floyd B. McKissick, Jr.
Republican Senator Warren Daniel said the bill was not a surprise, but it was a conglomeration of various abortion bills that were filed in the Senate as early as April.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said Wednesday the bill does not attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade or force a return to the back alley abortions of the 60s. He said it was about the safety of women and he also said the issues have been in the Senate for weeks.
"People have had an opportunity to speak," he said.
Supporters of the bill agreed it is needed for safety reasons.
"It requires a doctor be present during the procedure," said State Sen. Buck Newton, (R) District 11. "It requires DHS to have rules about ambulatory care, raising the standards of a surgical center. It's a surgical procedure when you have a physical abortion as opposed to a chemical abortion."
Melissa Reed, with Planned Parenthood, said House Bill 695 would essentially shut down safe and legal access to abortions in North Carolina.
"This is a dirty trick," said Reed.
Reed said, for places like Planned Parenthood, the upgrades, which she called unnecessary, have nothing to do with safety.
Reed said the bill would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and would put them and places like them, out of business. That would limit access to other services they provide, like cancer screenings and testing for STDs.
Supporters of the bill said Wednesday they're trying to protect children.
"We cannot allow these procedures to continue based on the gender of the child," explained Republican Senator Ralph Hide.
Democrats charged Republicans were trying to unfairly control women's access to health care, including abortion services.
Senator Angela Bryant recognized that Republicans had a super-majority which opponents could not overcome, but in the long term, "this effort to dominate us will not succeed."
Following the suggestion the bill was an attack on women, Democrat Senator Sen. Eleanor Kinnaird offering an amendment to the abortion bill that would have required doctors be present for administering erectile dysfunction medication like Viagra. The amendment was quickly defeated.
Republicans decried the attempt to link the abortion bill to erectile dysfunction medication. Senator Kathy Harrington called it "absolutely unconscionable."
"This is a procedure where an unborn child loses its life," she said.
The visitor's gallery in the Senate chamber was packed Wednesday. Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest threatened to remove the public after interruptions and applause. He even banned hand gestures, saying they were distracting.
In a rare comment on the actions of the General Assembly, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan tweeted "As a former state senator, I am appalled by the #NCGA actions. North Carolinians expect transparency, not procedural tricks."
Democrat Senator Martin L. Nesbitt, Jr. predicted the vote would be a wakeup call to North Carolinians about the conservative agenda in the General Assembly.
"I was convinced you'd have to poke folks in the eye with a stick to wake them up to what is going on down here. Well, you did, and I thank you," he offered.
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