Raleigh, N.C. — A year after senators used a late-day committee meeting to tack a sweeping set of abortion restrictions onto a bill prohibiting the recognition of Sharia law, the McCrory administration still has not put forward regulations to put the law into full effect.
The measure, which eventually was attached to a measure dealing with motorcycle safety, sparked protests against the Republican lawmakers who brought it forward. Democrats were incensed by the unusual roll out in a Senate judiciary committee – held at 5:30 p.m. on July 2, 2013 – that gave opponents little notice, while lobbyists advocating for more abortion restrictions clearly had notice of the measure.
In the weeks following that surprise meeting, hundreds of pink-clad protesters put pressure on lawmakers and garnered attention in national newspaper and television news reports. Despite that investment of effort and political capital, it's hard to see what, if anything, has happened as a result.
"The effect of that bill has not taken place yet," said Brian Lewis, a lobbyist for NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina.
Although the General Assembly put the laws of the state onto the books, various departments often need to make administrative rules in order to carry those laws out. At this point, the Department of Health and Human Services has not issued rules related to the abortion law.
A major provision of the bill involves imposing standards similar to outpatient surgery centers on abortion clinics. Advocates for making abortion available said that was aimed at making it harder for clinics to stay open. The measure also allows virtually any health care provider to opt out of providing services related to abortion and precludes local governments from offering coverage for abortions except in certain cases.
At the time the bill was moving forward, Gov. Pat McCrory threatened to veto the measure because he said it was too restrictive. The measure that eventually passed and that McCrory eventually signed gave his administration greater leeway to implement the bill.
The law did require the administration to report back to lawmakers, which DHHS did in December.
That report, signed by Adam Sholar, the agency's legislative liaison, said DHHS had studied existing rules and gathered feedback. It said the department was "now in the process of writing the initial draft of the rules pertaining to abortion clinics, which will be accompanied by a fiscal note."
Asked why those rules haven't yet been published or shared with lawmakers, a spokesman for the department said Wednesday that DHHS was following the normal regulatory process. The department would not make an official available for an interview, saying ongoing budget negotiations required staff time and attention, but issued an email statement from Drexdal Pratt, director of the state Division of Health Service Regulation.
"The General Assembly did not mandate a timeline for completion, but DHHS is thoroughly working through the process," Pratt wrote. "We are fully committed to complying with Senate Bill 353, in that any revised regulations will address patient safety and privacy without unduly restricting access."
Given the effort put into passing the bill – and the protests it caused – lawmakers said they were surprised the administration hadn't moved further toward implementation.
"We need to look into that," said Sen. Dan Soucek, R-Watauga, one of a number of senators who pushed for the bill. "If they (the department) haven't followed up on that, that's a problem."
Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, said he hadn't realized the administration had not yet made rules.
"It's a concern," Daniel said. "It's something we'll need to take a look at in the long session" of 2015.
Lewis said that DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos has assured abortion-rights advocates that they would have input into whatever rules are put forward.
"She has promised us that these rules and regulations will be done professionally, without politics," he said.