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NC House passes new abortion rules, waiting period

Posted June 8, 2011 4:02 a.m. EDT
Updated June 8, 2011 8:01 p.m. EDT

— Legislators wrestled with deep philosophical and political differences Wednesday before approving legislation requiring women to get specialized counseling and wait 24 hours before having an abortion.

The state House voted 71-48 to prohibit an abortion unless a woman is provided with state-specified information about the physician at least 24 hours in advance.

The measure was one of several abortion-related bills considered by the House Wednesday. Members also approved legislation that would allow the Division of Motor Vehicles to issue "Choose Life" specialty license plates, with revenue going to nonprofits that provide pregnancy counseling services.

A House committee passed a bill that would limit abortion coverage under the State Health Plan and plans offered by local governments statewide. Exceptions would include cases of rape, incest, stillbirth or where the mother's life is in danger.

Mayors and the North Carolina Association of Educators expressed opposition to the proposal.

"It contravenes many of the efforts of this session to provide local control on decisions about employment and other ways we grow and develop our communities," Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said.

"The General Assembly doesn't have the expertise to make the medical decision between our members and their doctor and their conscience," said Brian Lewis, government relations manager for NCAE.

Carey Pope, executive director of NARAL Pro Choice North Carolina, said she doesn't like limiting the exceptions to endangering the mother's life.

"There was not any information in the bill about the mother's health, and complications happen all the time with pregnancy – with wanted pregnancies," Pope said.

Bill supporters point to the appropriate use of tax dollars.

"You've got abortion, which is a very controversial issue, and you've got folks that are opposed to abortion that don't want to be funding abortion for other folks under the scenario of it being elective – as I call them, birth control abortions," said Rep. Stephen LaRoque, R-Lenoir.

LaRoque, the bill's sponsor, said he doesn't think lawmakers are overstepping their bounds by restricting county and city insurance plans as well.

"I'm a citizen, local citizen, and I pay local taxes, and I don't want my local taxes going to pay for birth control abortions," he said.

Under the waiting-period bill, women also would get information about the likely stage of development of the unborn child, the medical risks of having an abortion and giving birth, and the availability of abortion alternatives.

North Carolina is one of 16 states that don't require specialized counseling before an abortion. Half the states require a waiting period after counseling.

Majority Republicans said the measure is designed to give women more information about what happens in an abortion and who is providing it. GOP lawmakers then largely stayed quiet as Democrats complained the measure was government-mandated intrusion intended on steering someone away from choosing to end a pregnancy by making abortions more costly and difficult.

Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, said parts of the bill that require that patients receive information are entirely reasonable, including knowing the physician's name and the probable gestational age of the fetus. Requiring a pregnant woman to undergo and have her view an ultrasound of the developing child, and providing her with "one-sided and government-censored information" about the procedure went too far, Glazier said.

"In truth, this statute's all-transparent purpose is to place a substantial psychological, physical and fiscal obstacle in the place of a woman seeking pre-viability abortion," Glazier said. "It might return us to a time when abortions were more cruel, and harsh and medically unsafe."

Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, described how a relative and his girlfriend became involved in drugs and she got pregnant. The couple went to an abortion provider, and the woman insisted on viewing the ultrasound of the developing child despite initial refusals, McElraft said.

When the woman saw the image, she saw that the fetus was more developed than she'd been told and was free of deformities that sent her to the abortion provider in the first place, McElraft said.

"We have the right to know what is happening to our body and not to be hidden," McElraft said. "It's not a true choice unless you have all the information."