RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina Senate voted 29-12 to pass expanded restrictions on abortions in a bill hastily amended and considered during a committee hearing on Tuesday evening.
The bill’s final approval in the Senate on Wednesday paves the way for consideration in the state House.
Opponents of the bill say the Republican-controlled Senate is attempting to “sneak through” the restrictions. The restrictions were tacked on to a bill banning Sharia law in the state, was debated during the late evening on Tuesday.
Sen. Josh Stein (D-Wake) said during a nearly two-hour floor debate that the bill restricted women’s “fundamental constitutional rights.”
Sen. Floyd McKissick (D-Durham) said the proposed restrictions flew in the face of women’s privacy rights.
“These are uniquely, intensely and immensely personal decisions,” he said. “We should not be invading that zone of personal privacy.”
McKissick also condemned the attempt to “slip in” the restrictions and said the issue deserved “vigorous public debate.”
According to WRAL, advocates with women’s health groups were not given notice about the bill’s committee hearing on Tuesday evening. Lobbyists from anti-LGBT and anti-choice groups, including the Family Policy Council, Christian Action League and N.C. Values Coalition, were at the committee hearing and last night’s brief Senate vote. WRAL said some senators confirmed that anti-choice lobbyists were given advance notice of the bill’s movement.
A large number of citizens attended the full Senate debate on Wednesday. Many gathered outside the chamber after the Senate’s gallery filled to capacity. Several brief rounds of applause and laughter from the gallery caused Lt. Gov. Dan Forrest to order some people to be removed.
“It’s true that people in the gallery should be quiet in the chamber but it should be noted for the record that the people never had chance to speak,” said Graham. “I would have loved to hear the perspective of women’s groups across the state on this legislation,” Graham continued. “I was not afforded the opportunity. I was not afforded the opportunity to talk to the people of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County on how they will be impacted by this. I did not have the opportunity to do that because the citizens were not afforded the opportunity to be heard. So they are silenced today and they were silenced last night because no one knew what was coming.”
“Transparency is important on major legislation,” Malcolm continued. “Respect is deserved for the citizens of North Carolina. This is a major piece of legislation that will impact how we do business related to women’s healthcare and it deserves feedback, Mr. President. It deserves conversation and debate, some back and forth. But, no, because there’s no transparency, because we don’t respect our own rules. We changed them to fit our purpose, we introduced a major piece of legislation during a holiday week when even members of both sides are absent. The House is not even in session this week, and we roll it out in the middle of the evening tucked into another bill and say, ‘Here you are,’ that this is in the best interests of the citizens.”
Debate on an amendment offered by Sen. Ellie Kinnaird (D-Chatham, Orange) to restrict the prescription of medicines for erectile dysfunction was quickly quashed by the chamber. Kinnaird’s motion would have placed some of the same restrictions proposed for abortion on the prescription of medicines like Viagra.
NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Executive Director Suzanne Buckley said the bill represents every anti-choice piece of legislation considered this year.
“In the final minutes of marking up an unrelated piece of legislation, the Senate Judiciary committee swiftly tacked on every anti-choice piece of legislation introduced since January to this bill and sent the bill to the floor with no warning in an rare evening session,” Buckley said in a statement on Tuesday evening.
Buckly said the Senate is attempting to “hide their maneuvers from the public.”
“This is a cowardly move intended to silence pro-choice voices because they know that if they show their extreme agenda in the light of day, they’ll hear from us,” Buckley continued. “Within minutes of introducing these amendments, they’ve landed on the Senate floor for a vote — in so little time that North Carolina’s pro-choice majority won’t be able to weigh in with the very legislators who represent them.”
Among the restrictions included in the bill:
‘Conscience’ opt-out: Healthcare providers, including doctors and nurses, allowed to refuse to provide abortion or abortion-related services.
Funding restrictions: Prohibits health plans offered through federal healthcare exchanges as well as health plans from local governments from offering coverage for abortion and abortion-related services. Also prohibits any state funds for abortion, with the exception of cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother.
Sex-selective abortions: Bans abortion if doctors know a woman is seeking the procedure based on the gender of the fetus.
SEX-SELECTIVE ABORTIONS: The measure prohibits doctors from performing an abortion if they know the woman seeking it is doing so because of the gender of the baby.
Doctor restrictions: Doctors required to remain present through the entire abortion procedure, whether it is surgical or medical/chemical. According to WRAL: “A medical abortion is performed by taking one pill, waiting two days and then taking a second pill that contracts the uterus. It’s unclear for how much of that process the physician would have to be present.”
Clinic restrictions: Abortion clinics required to have “transfer agreements” with local hospitals and required to have licensing similar to other outpatient surgical offices. Only one clinic in the state meets those current standards. None of the Planned Parenthood clinics in the state meet them.