Most of us say "thanks" without thinking.
July 03--Hundreds of abortion rights advocates flooded the halls of the Legislative Building in Raleigh on Wednesday to oppose legislation that would place new restrictions on the procedure and the clinics that perform them, as the Republican-led Senate gave it a favorable report and sent it back to the House for consideration.
More than 500 opponents of the legislation -- mostly women and many wearing pink -- organized quickly to gather at the Legislative Building after Senate GOP leaders late Tuesday added several abortion provisions to an unrelated bill.
Protesters in the atrium outside the full gallery above the Senate floor chanted "Shame!" after Wednesday's vote. One woman was arrested by General Assembly police after yelling "Shame on you!" before the daily session ended. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who presided over the nearly two-hour debate, warned the crowd several times about their debate outbursts before clearing the gallery before adjournment.
As the lone Democrat and woman in the local legislative delegation, Rep. Susi Hamilton said she's shocked that Senate Republican leaders are pushing eleventh-hour legislation to further regulate abortions in the state.
"I thought we were here to talk about jobs," said Hamilton, D-New Hanover, of the purpose of the General Assembly.
"They're doing this because they can't get anything else done," she said. "So they go after the least among us. They go after health care, after children, after women, after the disabled.
Social conservatives pushed a series of new abortion rule changes nearly completely through the Senate late Tuesday, including some that would place new restrictions on clinics and doctors and prohibit gender-selective abortions.
The bill originated in the House as a ban on Sharia Law.
Sen. Thom Goolsby voted for the bill. He said the provision related to Sharia law primarily protects women from a law that "treats them as second-class citizens with few if any rights." Opponents characterize that portion of the bill as a conservative tactic that slaps at Islamic faith.
On the new abortion rules, Goolsby said the law enacts reasonable safeguards to protect patients. "Physicians are required to perform surgical procedures, and the Department of Health and Human Services is to develop guidelines for safe clinics," Goolsby said.
At a Senate committee meeting Tuesday, Republicans rolled out a House bill that originally focused on restricting the use of foreign laws in state courts but that they packed with abortion restrictions contained in other bills or that are new to the General Assembly this year.
The committee passed the bill, which later received tentative approval from the full Senate on a largely 27-14 party-line vote, with nine senators absent for the vote.
Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, was the lone Republican voting against the bill on the second of three readings. He was listed as having an excused absence for the final reading. He could not immediately be reached for comment.
The House also would have to approve the measure, a portion of which already passed earlier this year, before it could go to Gov. Pat McCrory's desk. The Republican governor said during last fall's campaign he wasn't interested in signing additional abortion restrictions into law. A McCrory spokeswoman said Tuesday night she had no comment on the bill.
Other members of the local House delegation said they'd take a wait-and-see approach to the bill.
Rep. Rick Catlin, R-New Hanover, said he hadn't had time to read the measure. He did support a previous House measure to prohibit the carrying out abortions on the basis of the gender of the fetus.
"I don't like speaking on something I don't know the details on," he said.
Rep. Frank Iler, R-Brunswick, also said he hadn't read the legislation in its entirety and did not yet have an informed opinion.
"I've got to see it," he said. "It sounds OK. It's just that it's kind of being rushed, and I'd like to read it and see what all is in it. I'm not really sure. I've heard three or four different things."
Rep. Ted Davis, R-Hanover, said he has approved some of the abortion changes that have come before the House and will have to study any additional changes made by the Senate.
"I'll be frank. I don't like getting involved in social issues.... Social issues can be very divisive with people. I'd rather take my time and effort at looking at the economy and trying to get jobs and tax reform and the budget without getting off track with the social issues.... There are a lot more important things we need to deal with than getting involved in these types of issues."
But if it's going to be on the agenda, he said, he can't ignore it.
Chris Millis, R-Pender, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Provisions that already passed the House and were added to the Senate bill would:
Prohibit the carrying out of abortions on the basis of the gender of the fetus. A doctor could be sued for damages. A court could fine physicians who don't comply with court orders against the practice.
Outlaw private health care plans that include abortion services, with some exceptions, from future health care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.
Forbid counties and cities from including abortion coverage that's greater than that provided in the state employee health insurance plan.
Allow any medical professional to refuse to participate in an abortion and not just doctors and nurses.
Prohibit North Carolina judges or agencies from applying part of any foreign law -- such as Islamic Sharia law -- or other legal systems that would lead to violations of constitutional rights in domestic and child custody cases.
Tuesday's vote was the latest example of the influence of social conservatives in the legislature, which Republicans took control of after the 2010 elections. It follows moves by several other Republican-led legislatures to place new restrictions on abortion, in some cases effectively limiting their availability.
The N.C. General Assembly passed abortion restrictions in 2011, some of which were struck down by a federal court. Democrats lambasted Republicans for their latest push.
"This is really about limiting women's rights," said Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash.
The legislation in part would direct state regulators to change clinic rules so they're similar to those for ambulatory surgery centers. Other states have passed similar restrictions that are difficult and expensive for abortion providers to carry out, said Melissa Reed with Planned Parenthood Health Systems.
The bill, if approved, "has the potential to shut down providers across the state," Reed said. "Abortion is one of the most common and safe medical procedures done in the United States and in North Carolina. It is already heavily regulated."
Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, who shepherded the bill in committee and on the floor, referred to the abortion doctor in Philadelphia convicted recently of killing live babies at a clinic that prosecutors labeled "a house of horrors." Abortion clinics and surgical centers should be on a level playing field, according to Daniel, who said he wasn't prepared to speculate how many clinics could meet the proposed standards. A judiciary committee staff lawyer said one abortion provider in the state is also an official surgical center.
"This bill is about safety," Daniel said during the floor debate. "If we require regulations that are burdensome on orthopedic (offices) and they can compete in the marketplace, then ... abortion providers can, too."
Senate Democrats criticized Republicans for bringing up the bill late on the day before a long July 4 weekend begins without any advance notice that the bill had been reworked heavily. Abortion rights advocates hadn't been told in advance the restrictions were being debated in committee.
"This bill is an end-run around our committees, our procedure and most importantly, our public," said Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham.
During a televised debate last October, McCrory was asked which additional abortion restrictions he would agree to sign into law. McCrory responded simply, "None."
Woodard urged McCrory to block the bill if it comes to his desk, saying aloud on the floor, "Governor, the women of North Carolina are counting on you to keep your commitment."
McCrory issued a statement Wednesday that didn't address whether he would sign the legislation but did condemn the Senate's handling of it Tuesday night.
"When the Democrats were in power, this is the way they did business," the statement says. "It was not right then and it is not right now. Regardless of what party is in charge or what important issue is being discussed, the process must be appropriate and thorough."
The bill also would require a physician performing a surgical abortion to be physically present during the entire procedure and be present when a woman takes a pill like RU-486 to induce an abortion. Reed said the requirement would make it harder for physician to take care of more patents.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.
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