NC Republicans bring abortion bill fix to panel
RALEIGH (AP) — House Republicans sought on Wednesday to address troubles Gov. Pat McCrory found in an abortion bill by passing through a committee new legislation designed to clarify expanded physician responsibilities and higher clinic standards.
The judiciary panel’s approval of a substitute measure came on a 10-5 party-line vote in favor of the GOP and a couple hours after McCrory threatened to veto the bill that passed the Senate. His problems have centered on requirements that clinics be regulated like outpatient surgery centers and doctors must be physically present for abortion procedures.
McCrory would veto the measure “unless changes and clarifications are made addressing our concerns,” his office said in a release. McCrory said earlier this week he was worried parts of the bill would result in restricting a woman’s access to legal abortion. The veto statement cited the comments by Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos on Tuesday to another House committee considering the measure the Senate pushed it quickly through the chamber last week.
Groups opposed to abortion said Wednesday they supported the adjusted measure. Democrats and abortion rights groups blasted the new version as having the same result — closing many of the 16 clinics in North Carolina and reducing the availability of safe abortions for women.
“The result no one should be fooled is any different,” said Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, during the judiciary committee debate. “We now have the government intrusively in this case finally trying to eliminate a woman’s right to reproductive choice.”
Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg, said the new measure, which was rolled out with no advance notice to the public, includes language offered by Wos’ office.
“We want to make sure these procedures are not designed in any way to purposefully close down clinics,” Samuelson told the committee. “What we are trying to make sure our clinics are run in a safe and healthy way.”
Samuelson said she had talked to Wos before entering the committee and suggested McCrory was on board with the changes, but McCrory’s office didn’t immediately respond to email requests for comment on the new bill. Three hours have been set aside for House floor debate Thursday. The Senate would have to approve the new bill, too before it could go to McCrory. He can sign a bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature.
It wasn’t immediately clear the impact of his first public veto threat since becoming governor six months ago on coaxing legislative action. Samuelson said she had been talking with McCrory administration officials since Tuesday evening.
McCrory “would have the vetoed the other bill had we sent it over,” Samuelson said.
McCrory said last October he didn’t want to sign into law any additional abortion restrictions. But social conservatives are pressing the Republican-led legislature to pass the bill in the light of state regulators ordering two clinics to shut down this year. Hundreds of abortion-rights activists also have protested about the measure last week after the Senate rolled it out without notice.
The bill that passed the Senate hastily last week before the July 4 holiday directed state HHS officials to create standards for abortion clinics “that are similar to those for the licensure of ambulatory surgical centers.” The bill also ordered that a doctor be “physically present” throughout an entire surgical abortion procedure and when a woman receives a chemically-induced abortion.
State HHS leaders said Tuesday the requirements were too vague and potentially extremely expensive for clinics to follow and suggested that increasing funds for more frequent clinic inspections could improve clinic safety.
The bill approved Wednesday authorizes the department to apply standards for surgery centers to standards for clinics to address on-site recovery, protect patient privacy, and ensure patients with complications receive necessary medical attention “while not unduly restricting access.”
Physicians would still have to be physically present throughout the entire surgical abortion procedure and “in the same room as the patient” when she takes the first dose of a drug for a chemically-induced abortion such as RU-486. The department also will tell legislators by next spring what resources they need to adequately inspect clinics.
The new bill contains other abortion-related measures that already passed the House this year. The measure would prohibit gender-selective abortions, curb abortion insurance coverage and expand the type of medical professionals that can conscientiously objection to participate in abortions.
NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina said it was encouraged by McCrory’s veto warning but executive director Suzanne Buckley derided what she called “another surprise attack on women’s health” in Wednesday’s committee.
Samuelson, one of the top House leaders, defended how alterations were made quickly by inserting them into a bill originally focused on motorcycle safety originally scheduled for committee debate.
“We had it here because we’re late in the session and this is the way you get things sometimes late in the session when you’ve got a lot of moving parts,” she said.