Abortion restrictions in North Carolina Senate bill set up political, moral standoff

July 5, 2013

A crowd protests the North Carolina Senate’s approval of a series of abortion restrictions as law enforcement officers stand outside the legislative building in Raleigh. (The News & Observer, Chuck Liddy/Associated Press)

Not to be outdone in the headlines by the Texas Wendy Davis vs. Rick Perry duel over an abortion bill or Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich signing a budget bill that includes funding cuts and restrictions to limit abortions, North Carolina is moving ahead with its own slate of abortion-related bills. Proponents say the measures would insure women’s safety, opponents insist it’s about limiting women’s rights and choices, and GOP Gov. Pat McCrory is caught in a bind.

Candidate McCrory tried to occupy a middle ground on the hot-button issue, saying he would not sign any further restrictions on abortion into law. But as governor, McCrory has been following the lead of conservative Republican veto-proof super-majorities in the state House and Senate. A wave of proposals — from voter-ID restrictions to cutbacks on unemployment payments – has resulted in push-back from protesters who continue to show up inside and outside the state capitol in Raleigh each week.

Hundreds more made their way to Raleigh to shout “shame” at the state Senate’s actions this week. The GOP majority attached new abortion restrictions to a bill that would ban North Carolina family courts from considering foreign laws and passed it by a 29-12 vote.

The bill would require abortion clinics to meet standards similar to those for outpatient surgery clinics, and critics say majority of the state’s 16 licensed abortion clinics would not qualify, said a report in the News & Observer. New rules would also require a doctor to be present when a woman takes abortion-inducing medications. Provisions that mimic House legislation would ban abortions based on gender, expand protections for health care workers who refuse to assist in performing abortions on religious or ethical grounds, and prohibit health insurance coverage for abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother, in plans offered through the Affordable Care Act.

It’s a dilemma that McCrory doesn’t need and clearly doesn’t want. He issued a statement on the tactics of Republicans. “When the Democrats were in power, this is the way they did business,” McCrory said. “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.”

McCrory doesn’t have to sign for the bill to become law if it makes it through the House. But voters on both sides would want to know where the most visible state Republican stands. If he tries to remain neutral, it would also add to an impression that he is a rubber stamp for the current conservative GOP majority.

In an appearance Thursday at an Independence Day parade in Faith, N.C., McCrory would not say whether he would sign or veto the bill. “Listen, most people haven’t read some of the bill that was amended during the late-night hours and neither have I,” McCrory told News 14 Carolina. “So I look forward to reading it, and I’ll express the areas where I disagree and the areas where I agree.”

The issue of abortion is, of course, as complicated in North Carolina as anywhere else. If you look past the political maneuvering, almost impossible in the partisan battles taking place across the country, statements in reaction to the North Carolina legislature’s actions this week indicate both the sincerity and certainty of opposing sides. It’s a rigidity not felt by most Americans, who, according to polls, want abortion to be legal but approve of limits on late-term procedures except in rare cases.

In an article on the group’s Web site, the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said of the North Carolina Senate’s actions, “We called it Christmas in July, but the gift won’t be completely wrapped until it’s passed by the House and signed by the governor.” He said, “We urge Christians to let their representatives know that they support these measures that are bound to save lives.”

NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina executive director Suzanne Buckley said in a statement, “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. …  We will continue to sound the alarm and fight this bill in the House. The proud pro-choice women and men of North Carolina will demand that Governor McCrory make good his promise to veto anti-abortion legislation because politicians are elected to represent the will of all the people, not the ones who rig the system.”

Meanwhile, North Carolina, before the GOP’s virtual takeover of statewide offices in the last election, had shown itself more difficult to peg politically than, say, reliably red Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry, who has had his share of political stumbles, has probably done himself some good with his base with his hard line on abortion.

Important issues, such as clinic safety and whether any clinic will be able to reach the bar the law sets, seem all but lost as North Carolina joins the list of states debating strict abortion regulations. Democratic and Republican leaders in the state must be asking how this week’s headlines will play politically. The first indication of the fallout could be in Sen. Kay Hagan’s 2014 re-election battle. The Democrat’s seat is a target for Republicans hoping to gain control of the Senate, and the race will no doubt draw national attention and campaign money.

Hagan’s quick reaction statement this week could be seen as an appeal to moderate Democrats, Republicans and Independents, particularly women voters. “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. Even Governor McCrory opposes this legislative sneak-attack,” she said. “These are not the values we hold in North Carolina. Instead of attacking women’s health care, the General Assembly needs to turn their focus to the number one concern of North Carolinians – jobs and the economy.”

Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3

Mary C. Curtis is an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C. She has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3
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