Raleigh, N.C. — During an Oct. 24, 2012, debate, WRAL News reporter Laura Leslie asked soon-to-be Gov. Pat McCrory the following: "If you are elected governor, what further restrictions on abortion would you agree to sign?"
McCrory's one-word reply: "None."
So when McCrory signed a package of changes to the state's abortion laws Monday, did he break that campaign pledge?
McCrory makes the case that the bill does not "further restrict" access to abortion, while advocates suggest that it does. This promise is among those WRAL News has tracked during the governor's term.
He can certainly lay claim to influencing the course of the bill through the legislature and demanding changes that made the measure somewhat less strict than originally introduced. However, there are still provisions in the measure that would limit the availability of abortion for some women.
Given the absolute nature of his promise, by signing Senate Bill 353, he broke that promise.
Veto threat leads to bill's revision
Shortly before the July 4th holiday, the state Senate tacked a sweeping abortion reform bill onto a measure designed to deal with the application of foreign law in North Carolina's family law courts. McCrory said he would veto that measure, saying that parts of it were clearly aimed at restricting access to, rather than improving the safety of, abortions.
McCrory declared he would sign that bill because it made certain changes from the Senate version.
"Because of the veto threat, that bill was changed to our satisfaction," McCrory said during a post-legislative-session news conference. "We're not going to limit access in those facilities. We're going to increase the safety in those facilities."
The key change in the bill that McCrory pointed to revolved around regulations for abortion clinics. The Senate version of the bill would have required clinics to meet the standards for ambulatory surgical centers. The House version softens that requirement by requiring the Department of Health and Human Services to use the ambulatory surgical rules as a guide "while not unduly restricting access" to abortion.
Republican backers of the bill, including Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg, point out the measure merely draws regulations with which abortion clinics have to comply. They argue that, if clinics choose to close because of the rules, that should not be held against the regulations.
However, there is still a strong case to be made that the end result of the bill would be to further limit access to abortions:
- The use of the ambulatory surgical center standard was not completely eliminated. Depending on what regulations are drafted by DHHS, it could still force expensive upgrades that abortion clinics may find too costly or physically impossible to comply with because of their locations. According to legislative staff, only one abortion clinic in North Carolina can currently meet the full ambulatory surgical standard. McCrory says he will direct DHHS staff to draft the guidelines in such a way that no clinic will shut down, but similar provisions in other states have led to clinic closures.
- The bill allows any health care provider to opt out of providing care related to an abortion. This could lead to a shortage of personnel available during certain procedures.
- The bill forbids health plans offered through the exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act from offering abortion coverage. While this does not restrict the availability of the procedure, it does limit the ability of women to acquire coverage that might pay for the procedure.
- The bill forbids cities and counties from offering health plans that cover abortion procedures. Taken together, the two insurance provisions would make it more difficult for low-income women to seek abortions.
During a recent episode of "On the Record," Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake, a proponent of the legislation, was asked if the measure "was purely an attempt to limit abortions as severely as you can in North Carolina." Stam answered, "Well, it's partly that, but certainly not mostly that."
McCrory differs with that assessment.
"We are not signing a bill which will limit future access," McCrory insisted in the July 26 news conference. "Our goal is to keep every current facility open that's open today."
However, there is a much stronger argument to be made that the bill would in fact "further restrictions on abortion." Signing that bill breaks the governor's campaign promise.