Sarah Preston, Policy Director, ACLU of North Carolina
This blog post was published in conjunction with Repro Health Watch, an exciting new edition of the Women’s Health Policy Report, which compiles and distributes media coverage of proposed and enacted state laws, ballot initiatives and litigation affecting women’s access to comprehensive reproductive health care.
Over the course of several months, the North Carolina House of Representatives has launched a series of attacks on a woman’s right to choose, passing several bills that seek to limit access to abortion.
The first to pass was HB 716, which sought to prevent abortions where the sex of the fetus was a “significant factor” in the decision by the woman seeking the abortion. The bill would punish the doctor who performed the abortion. This type of legislation, besides being wholly unnecessary, also does nothing but encourage doctors to interrogate their patients to cover their own liability.
Next, HB 730 was passed by a committee, but was amended on the floor. It started out as a “conscience protection” bill to allow employers to deny coverage to women for contraception based on the employer’s moral objections. The bill also had a provision that allowed any health care provider to refuse to participate in an abortion procedure, despite the fact that it is their job to provide health care services and they could be jeopardizing a woman’s life. That bill was amended to remove the provisions affecting access to contraception, but legislators added a provision preventing the North Carolina Health Insurance Exchange from offering plans that covered abortion, even to protect the health of the woman, potentially forcing a woman to continue a catastrophic pregnancy simply because she cannot afford the high out-of-pocket costs associated with the procedure.
The North Carolina Senate, in taking up the campaign against women, decided to roll the House bills into one omnibus package and tack on one more provision to require that abortion clinics be regulated similarly to “ambulatory surgical units.” Ambulatory surgical facilities are regulated down to the type of finish on the walls and how wide the hallways are. All of these provisions were tacked on to a totally unrelated bill, HB 695 “Foreign Laws/Protect Constitutional Rights,” in a committee meeting held late in the day just before the July 4th holiday with no notice to the public. It was rushed to the Senate floor within hours of being passed by committee.
One week later, the North Carolina House pulled exactly the same maneuver, barely tweaking the language from the Senate bill and inserting it into SB 353, originally the “Motorcycle Safety Act,” in committee with no notice before rushing their version to the floor. Setting aside the terrible lack of transparency or public input surrounding its introduction, the bill threatens the ability of North Carolina women to access a full range of reproductive health care in-state. Beyond that, it could undermine the doctor-patient relationship and likely prevents thousands of women from getting insurance through the state exchange for a safe medical procedure that is constitutionally protected.
According to legislative staff, if the full set of regulations that apply to ambulatory surgical centers were applied to North Carolina’s abortion clinics today, only one clinic, which is in Asheville, N.C., would be able to remain open. That would mean a woman seeking an abortion in Wilmington on the east coast of the state would have to travel more than 650 miles round trip to access the services she needs in-state. Yet, lawmakers in both chambers have approved slightly different versions of this burdensome and unnecessary regulation and it is widely assumed it will land on the Governor’s desk soon. During his campaign, Governor Pat McCrory pledged to sign no further restrictions on abortion. Now is the time to remind him of that pledge. Join us in asking Gov. McCrory to keep his promise and protect women’s health.