Accusing their Republican counterparts of waging a "War on Women" in North Carolina, House and Senate Democrats announced today they've filed bills to repeal measures restricting abortion and cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood.
Last year's GOP-penned budget banned the state from directing any state or federal pass-through funds to Planned Parenthood. Public funding already cannot be used to provide abortion services. The budget provision also banned public funding for non-abortion-related services, from testing and counseling for sexually transmitted diseases to breast and cervical cancer screenings for low-income women.
That provision has been stayed by the courts.
This year's budget would take the additional step of banning county health departments from contracting with Planned Parenthood to provide any services.
"Planned Parenthood saves lives," said Rep. Alma Adams, D-Guilford, noting that it's the only healthcare available to many low-income women and men. She said most county health departments are not equipped to offer those primary services. "Republicans claim they're for keeping government out of people's lives. Why doesn't that apply when it comes to women's lives?" asked Adams.
Democrats said they're also filing bills to repeal the "Women's Right to Know" act, a law that requires doctors to read a state-mandated script to women seeking abortions, explaining (among other things) that the father could be required to provide financial help and that government assistance may be available to her.
The woman must also obtain an ultrasound no less than 4 hours before the abortion. The doctor or tech must describe the images to her and offer her the opportunity to hear the fetal heartbeat. If she refuses, she must sign a waiver saying so.
There are no exceptions for rape, incest, or terminal pregnancies.
"Can you think of anything more offensive than for the government to say to a victim of rape and incest - we're gonna make you the victim?" said Sen. Doug Berger, D-Franklin.
State courts have already put parts of that law on hold after finding that a legal challenge on First Amendment grounds had a good chance of succeeding.
Republican supporters of the measure said it was intended to protect women from being pressured into abortions they don't want.
Other Democrats cited cuts to programs that help women, from child-care subsidies and domestic violence prevention to education and mental health.
"It is really a crime for the legislature to say to [women], 'We'll make decisions for you...we'll make decisions for your doctor,'" said Senator Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford.
Two of the five women currently serving in the Senate are Republicans. They've refrained from the debate on either of the bills.
"[Senate Republicans] don't allow their women to say anything," Robinson said.
One of those two GOP women senators, Sen. Kathy Harrington, R-Gaston, said she hoped Robinson was joking.
"If not, her assertion is not only patently false, but insulting," Harrington said in an emailed statement. "As a freshman Republican senator, I was honored to be named as Chairman of Transportation Appropriations and Vice Chairman of the Transportation and Finance committees."
"My colleagues treat me with the utmost respect, and I know my opinions are valued," Harrington added. "Divisive comments like these are unproductive and uncalled for.”