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House to vote Thursday on new abortion bill

Posted July 11, 2013 4:02 a.m. EDT
Updated July 11, 2013 11:10 a.m. EDT

— The North Carolina House is expected to engage in an impassioned floor debate Thursday before voting on the latest version of a bill that would place new restrictions on the state's abortion clinics. 

In response to a Wednesday veto threat from Gov. Pat McCrory, the House Judiciary B Committee slightly altered a suite of abortion restrictions passed by the Senate and dumped them into a bill related to motorcycle safety, Senate Bill 353. 

Members of the committee changed the bill to instruct Department of Health and Human Services regulators to write rules "not unduly restricting access" of women seeking abortion, but opponents of the bill say the change does little to alter the substance of the measure. 

Activists were expected to descend on the Legislative Building to watch the debate.

House leaders were critical of senators, who rewrote a House bill just before the Fourth of July to carry the abortion language, and told reporters this week they would follow a more open process. On Tuesday, they held a public hearing on the Senate measure.

But Wednesday, the House committee altered the motorcycle safety bill and attached the abortion language. 

There was no notice that the abortion-related provisions would be on the calendar. It passed the committee on a 10-5 vote.

"We're late in the session, and this is the way you get things done late in the session sometimes," said Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg. "We wanted to make sure that we got this done and didn't leave it hanging."

Lawmakers are trying to wrap up their work for the year this month while still negotiating tax and budget bills.But Democrats cried foul, saying House leaders were displaying the same disregard for public notice as the Senate did.

"We're as bad as the Senate is," said Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham.

Republicans argue that the provisions of the bill have existed in separate pieces of legislation for months. The only thing that's different, they said, is that the measures have been combined under a single bill and attached to an unrelated piece of legislation.

Under the bill as it now exists, the measure would:

  • Allow any health care provider, not just doctors and nurses, to opt out of participating in abortion procedures.
  • Prohibit health plans offered on the exchange established under the federal Affordable Care Act from offering coverage for abortion.
  • Prohibit cities and counties from offering coverage for abortions in health plans they offer their employees.
  • Prohibit abortions for the purpose of selecting the sex of a child.
  • Require physicians to be present for the entire abortion procedure, even if the doctor would not be in the room during a comparable medical procedure.
  • Ask the Department of Health and Human Services to write regulations for abortion clinics similar to those for ambulatory surgery centers. Such regulations have required clinics in other states to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in upgrades or close down. Currently, there is only one abortion clinic in the state that meets such standards.

"It's just another sneak attack. The bill's almost exactly the same," said Suzanne Buckley, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina. "It's just clear that they're looking to restrict access to abortion, and they don't care how they do it."

Samuelson told reporters that she and the Governor's Office had negotiated over the bill and that the changes reflected in the House draft resolve McCrory's objections. Representatives for the governor declined to comment on the bill.