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2 abortion-related bills advance at General Assembly

Posted May 6, 2021 12:31 p.m. EDT
Updated May 6, 2021 6:03 p.m. EDT

— Amid emotional statements on the House floor and in a Senate committee room, two abortion-related bills advanced in the legislature Thursday.

The House voted 67-42 for a bill that would make it illegal to obtain an abortion specifically because of the presumed race of the fetus or because of a Down syndrome diagnosis.

Backers said the measure is needed to prevent discrimination against the disabled, but opponents said it's merely another attempt to interfere with a woman's right to legally terminate a pregnancy.

"Forcing someone to carry a pregnancy to term against their will does absolutely nothing to address discrimination," said Rep. Julie von Haefen, D-Wake, adding that lawmakers would be better served expanding services for the disabled.

"This bill prevents modern-day eugenics," said Rep. Dean Arp, R-Union, one of the bill sponsors.

The fact that "eugenics" is in the name of the bill incensed numerous Democrats, some of whom complained that women of color comprised the majority of those sterilized under North Carolina's decades-long eugenics program.

"It is the height of insensitivity to label it eugenics – the doctrine that Nazis used to justify slaughtering Jews ... the practice that's used to keep African American women from even having children," said Rep. James Gailliard, D-Nash.

Gailliard got so heated in his statements that House Speaker Tim Moore twice warned him to calm his rhetoric or be ruled out of order.

Rep. Gale Adcock, D-Wake, a family nurse practitioner, also was upset that bill supporters suggested that physicians coerce women into getting abortions.

Quoting the Bible, Republican House members said they were only trying to recognize the dignity of all unborn children, including those with Down syndrome.

"Abortion is one of the blights of this world," said Rep. Keith Kidwell, R-Beaufort. "Every child is worth everything."

Sponsor Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, wept as she read a letter from a child with Down syndrome. "I know in my heart that I am God’s child, and I love my life," the child wrote.

Following passage in the House, the bill now heads to the Senate.

Earlier Thursday, the Senate Health Care committee approved the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which would make it a misdemeanor for a doctor not to provide care for an infant born after a botched abortion. It also would create a duty for other health care professionals to report any such failure to act.

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a similar bill two years ago, calling it "an unnecessary interference between doctors and their patients" because state law already protects newborns.

Sponsor Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, said she addressed some of the concerns with the previous measure, lowering the penalty for lack of care from a felony to a misdemeanor and adding the prospect of civil penalties.

"This bill changes nothing – nothing – except how an infant born alive is treated," Krawiec said. "It does nothing to limit women's access to health care."

She compared a lack of care for a newborn that survived an attempted abortion to passing a crash scene and not stopping to help.

"That is not humane in my world, not humane at all," she said.

Representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood criticized the bill as trying to address a problem that doesn't exist and is merely an attempt to intimidate doctors and scare women away from seeking abortions.

"Doctors already have an obligation to provide appropriate medical care in all cases. To suggest otherwise is offensive," said Liz Barber, policy analyst for the ACLU. "Senate Bill 405 comes out of a national playbook of anti-abortion laws designed to stigmatize abortion, stigmatize the women who seek abortions and outright demonize the doctors who provide them."

Krawiec said she had no statistics on how many infants survived an abortion, saying doctors likely don't report such incidents. Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, cited data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating about 400 to 600 cases in hospitals nationwide from 2003 to 2014.

Fitzgerald and other social conservatives pressed for the bill, calling the treatment for such infants a civil rights issue.

"The right to an abortion should not translate to a right to a dead child, no matter what," Fitzgerald said. "This is really about infanticide, plain and simple."

The committee passed the measure on a voice vote, and it will likely be on the Senate floor next week.

WRAL Statehouse Reporter Travis Fain contributed to this report.

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