New abortion bill extends waiting period, prohibits procedures at UNC hospitals

North Carolina would have a 72-hour waiting period for abortions under a bill filed by a quartet of Republican women. The same measure would also prevent doctors at UNC-owned hospitals from performing elective abortions.

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Abortion protest at General Assembly
Mark Binker
RALEIGH, N.C. — Doctors working for the medical schools at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill or East Carolina University would be prohibited from performing elective abortions under a bill filed Wednesday.

House Bill 465 would also require women seeking abortions to speak with a doctor or other "qualified health care provider" three days before undergoing the procedure, tripling the state's current 24-hour waiting period.

"We do not want state funds being used for abortions," Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, said Wednesday. "Our constituents have made that loud and clear from all over the state of North Carolina."

McElraft is one of a quartet of Republican women who filed the measure. She is joined by Reps. Jacqueline Schaffer, R-Mecklenbrug, Rena Turner, R-Iredell, and Susan Martin, R-Wilson.

McElraft said there is data to show that the 24-hour waiting period had led to fewer abortions. Making that wait three days, she said, could lead to even fewer abortions.

"There's no effort here to try to restrict a woman's right to have an abortion," she said. "What we're trying to do is make her care competent."

Although McElraft pitched the bill as a measure that would help protect women as well as curb the use of taxpayer money, the topic of abortion is always a volatile one. An abortion measure passed in 2013 sparked protests at the Legislative Building and garnered national attention.

The bill would "prohibit two of the finest medical schools in the the country from providing doctors with the training necessary to provide safe abortion care," said Melissa Reed, a vice president for public policy for Planned Parenthood, a women's health care nonprofit known for its advocacy for abortion rights.

Reed said a third provision of the bill, requiring that any physician performing an abortion be ob-gyn, rather than just any doctor, ignores current practice and creates more of a barrier than is necessary.

"The politicians supporting this bill completely disregard the complex decisions women and their families face every day," she said. "It is shameful that North Carolina legislators continue to sacrifice women’s health in their ideological attempts to take this state backwards."
The House measure is the second abortion measure filed at the General Assembly this year. Senate Bill 604 would place more requirements on clinics where abortions are performed.

Effects on medical school unclear

The bill drew praise from groups that work to limit abortion rights.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, called the measure "a major step towards addressing the negligent and abusive practices endemic to the abortion industry and safeguarding North Carolina women. We are encouraged by this women-led effort."

The affects of the bill will vary depending on location. ECU does not own its own hospital, but partners with Vidant Medical Center in Greenville. "ECU Physicians clinics do not offer elective abortions," according to a spokeswoman.

The medical school at UNC Chapel Hill may face more questions.

UNC Hospitals and the School of Medicine do not use any state funds to perform pregnancy termination or abortion procedures, according to Jennifer James, a spokeswoman for the university-run health care system. She said that, in fiscal year 2014, the UNC system performed roughly 400 abortions.

"A majority of these approximate 400 presented cases were referrals received from around the state. These approximate 400 procedures were out of 80,000 visits to the North Carolina Women’s Hospital," James said.

When she explained the bill to reporters, McElraft said it was designed to ensure that women receive "competent" care. However, the measure would block two of the state's medical schools from training doctors in the procedure.

"There are opportunities for doctors to learn this," McElraft said. "Abortion physicians learn from all kinds of training – spontaneous abortions or miscarriages. Sometimes, you learn how to act in an emergency situation. There are other options."

However, the rules for training doctors in the procedure require hands-on experience, James said.

"The Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education is the accreditation entity that provides for maintaining a medical education program within the United States," James wrote in an email. "They have stated that access to experience with induced abortion must be part of residency education. They further state that experience with management of complications of abortion must be provided to all residents. This education can be provided outside of the institution. We do not know at this time the overall effect it will have on the Department and its educational mission."

It's unclear if and how quickly this bill will move. McElraft said that the Republican members of the House by and large back her measure. House Speaker Tim Moore and other GOP leaders have said they want to focus on jobs and economic development, however, and moving an abortion bill through the General Assembly would no doubt draw time and attention from measures related to the economy.

"We are multi-taskers here in the General Assembly," McElraft said. "I am absolutely an advocate for jobs, but we can do lots of the things. And actually, when we can have a few more little taxpayers born, why not?"


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