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Senate committee passes politically tricky abortion bill

Posted May 27, 2015 1:56 p.m. EDT
Updated May 27, 2015 10:50 p.m. EDT

— Senate leaders have concocted a politically volatile bill that combines measures further restricting access to abortion – measures that sharply divide Republicans and Democrats at the General Assembly – with bills that make statutory rape laws stricter and protect victims of domestic violence.

The newly reconstituted House Bill 465 passed the Senate Judiciary II Committee on Wednesday afternoon.

As it emerged from the House, the bill would raise from 24 hours to 72 hours the waiting period between which a woman seeking an abortion must first consult with a doctor and the time the procedure is performed. The measure, as outlined in its official summary, also raises the level of qualifications for any doctor performing the procedure and requires that doctors share more information with the state Department of Health and Human Services after performing an abortion.

"I think people of good faith can disagree about the issue of abortion," said Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg.

However, Jackson said, blending abortion measures with hard-to-oppose legislative language is aimed at putting Democrats in a tough political spot. If they vote against imposing more abortion restrictions, they will also be voting against laws to protect victims of domestic violence and restrict the movement of sex offenders.

"They want to be able to use that against us in campaign season," he said. "They're already laying the groundwork for the negative ads they're going to run against us."

He tried to take out two of the sections not related to abortion, but his amendment was rebuffed on a voice vote.

Senate Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, monitored the meeting even though he is not on the committee. He denied Jackson's assertion that the bill was designed to put Democrats in a hard spot.

"That's just how the thing ended up being thrown together," Apodaca said.

Pressed as to the possible political implications, he said, "I don't think it's to campaign against them. We have enough to go against them on."

The following are among the non-abortion provisions in the bill that the Senate Judiciary Committee added to the bill Wednesday:

  • Requiring sex offenders who committed crimes in other states or under federal law to stay away from premises in North Carolina that are frequented by children.
  • Raising the penalties for committing an assault in the presence of a minor.
  • Clarifying the laws surrounding statutory rape.
  • Creating a program to make it easier for women to file domestic violence protection orders.

Abortion provisions debated

During the hour-long committee meeting, opponents of the bill pressed its backers for reasons behind the bill's abortion requirements.

Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, D-Northampton, asked why the bill expanded the waiting period for an abortion from one day to three days.

"Are you assuming it takes us (women) an additional 48 hours to make a decision?" Smith-Ingram asked.

Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, said that the state imposes waiting periods for any number of legal processes.

"We have a three-day right of rescission when I write a contract to sell a house," Krawiec said. "We have three-day right for refinancing your car."

Both sides pointed to members of the audience for backup.

Dr. Melinda Snyder, who has practiced at the state mental hospital in Butner, said she often sees female patients with a history of abortion.

"Three days is a totally reasonable time," Snyder said.

But other doctors who spoke during the committee meeting blasted the waiting period.

"Waiting three days doesn't change their mind; it only delays their care," said Dr. Amy Bryant, an ob/gyn at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

Bryant recounted the case of a woman who discovered she was pregnant as she was trying to leave an abusive boyfriend.

"Having to delay three days would have put her life in jeopardy if her abusive partner had found out," she said.

Others pushed back against provisions that would say only doctors who are "board certified or eligible to be board certified in obstetrics or gynecology" could perform the procedure.

"To say that only ob/gyns can perform this service is plain wrong. It's misinformation," said Dr. Kim Boggess, an ob/gyn.

After the meeting, Boggess said she was, "appalled that these decisions were being made with very little medical fact being considered."

Another provision of the bill would require that, for abortions performed after a fetus was 16 weeks, doctors would have to transmit images from the ultrasound to DHHS along with information about the methods used in determining the age of the fetus.

"My understanding from talking to people is we don't always know what the age of the unborn child is," said Krawiec when asked why that information should be transmitted.

Officials with DHHS say that collecting that and other information required by the bill would cost the state $8,000.

Other senators worried this would create a greater potential for a breach of privacy.

The bill cleared committee on a show of hands, although the chairman did not announce a final count. The measure now goes to the Senate floor. If approved there, it would have to return to the House for at least one more approval.