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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

NHC Rep. Butler, three others introduce bill to loosen abortion restrictions

Crowds gather in downtown Wilmington last June following the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Nine months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the federal law protecting a woman’s right to choose an abortion, four North Carolina House of Representatives have introduced a bill that would lower statewide restrictions.

House Bill 439, sponsored by representatives Deb Butler (D-New Hanover), Julie von Haefen (D-Wake), Lindsey Prather (D-Buncombe) and Maria Cervania (D-Wake), codifies abortion access. 

READ MORE: ‘Feels like a punch in the stomach’: Protesters, leaders react to overturning of Roe v. Wade

North Carolina allows for the termination of a pregnancy up to 20 weeks. Physicians who perform abortions thereafter must provide evidence it was a medical emergency. The state also requires a person to receive state-directed counseling and wait 72 hours before the procedure is performed.

Also known as the Remove Barriers to Gain Access (RGB) Act, the current bill proposes legalizing abortion until viability, as Roe v. Wade outlined. The term varies per person, but is typically around 22 or 24 weeks or pregnancy. 

“Abortion is health care,” Rep. Deb Butler told Port City Daily. “Everyone should have the freedom to plan families as they see fit. We have put stumbling blocks in front of women, unreasonable waiting periods, causing people hardships in an already difficult circumstance.”

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic Director of Public Affairs Jillian Riley said North Carolina has one of the “most extreme” delays between making an appointment and undergoing the procedure. The 72-hour window was put in place in 2015, where previously the waiting period was 24 hours. HB 439 would abolish the waiting period.

A new statewide poll of 500 registered voters during a week in January was done by N.C. Values Coalition — a grassroots network of North Carolinians who support and advocate for anti-abortion — and North Carolina Faith and Freedom Coalition, a faith-based “get out the vote” organization. Results showed a majority of North Carolinians believe a 72-hour waiting period should be required before an abortion.

“The decision to destroy another human life is serious and should not be rushed,” according to N.C. Values Coalition Press and Political Director Laura Macklem. 

Currently, insurance does not cover abortion. North Carolina only allows Medicaid and state healthcare coverage in situations of life endangerment, rape or incest.

The proposed legislation would permit health insurance providers to cover the costs in every circumstance. It would also allow psychological and emotional conditions to constitute a medical emergency, justifying abortion up to viability.

Currently, the law only allows licensed physicians to oversee the procedures. HB 439 expands the ability to nurse practitioners, physicians assistants, and certified nurse midwives. This means treatment can occur outside of a hospital or licensed clinical setting.

“The reason this is really important is because specifically rural areas, there are gaps in who can provide abortions,” Riley told PCD.

She explained 91% of North Carolina counties do not have a licensed abortion provider, but every county has an advanced practice clinician who can fill that gap and increase access statewide.

In addition, HB 439 addresses restrictions to medical abortions are predominately felt by those who already face systemic barriers to healthcare, including youth, people of color, and those with disabilities, low-income households, residents in rural areas and undocumented people.

Planned Parenthood of South Atlantic is in full support of the proposed bill.

“We know restrictions do not move the need for abortions,” Riley said. 

A study done by the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute analyzed abortion rates in places where it’s legal and illegal. The results show the findings are basically the same in both situations. It also noted is can be hard to track, especially in locations where the procedure is mostly hidden.

“The right to control what happens to your body is a fundamental human right,” Riley added. “Everyone should be able to make this decision without the government interfering.”

After the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision was overturned last June, North Carolina saw a 37% jump in abortions, according to abortion tracking project WeCount. In April 2022, North Carolina physicians performed 3,190 abortions, but the number increased to 4,360 in August following the Supreme Court decision; it’s considered the greatest percentage increase in any state.

“Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, we have seen a wave of states, particularly in the South, banning or severely restricting access to abortions,” Riley told PCD.

There has been an increase in patients crossing state lines to North Carolina, as neighboring states Tennessee and South Carolina have prohibited or restricted abortions. According to a report from The New York Times, Planned Parenthood estimates more than one-third of its abortion patients in North Carolina are from out of state.

Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order in July protecting healthcare providers for offering abortion services to out-of-state residents. 

According to the News & Observer, discussions by Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly have focused on further restricting abortions after the first trimester, or 13 weeks. Others want to limit abortions to as early as six weeks — often before a woman even knows she’s pregnant.

Sen. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover) told Port City Daily he’s “comfortable” with legislation that limits access to abortions after the first trimester. Through 20 weeks, Lee said he would support exceptions for rape and incest or the health of the mother and viability of the fetus.

On Feb. 28, US News reported that House and Senate leaders are meeting behind closed doors to come to a consensus on how to proceed with legislation, before introducing the party’s own bill.

“I have suspicions the Republicans are probably fighting among themselves about the political wisdoms of such a thing,”  Butler said. “And they don’t consult me on that. I am sure it will come raging out of committee when it happens.”

Riley said Planned Parenthood fully expects the legislature to introduce an abortion ban this session.

“We will do everything in our power to delay it,” she said. “We’re confident Gov. Cooper will veto a ban on more restrictive legislation.”

Only one Democratic vote is needed for a supermajority to override a veto.

Macklem of the N.C. Values Coalition told PCD the organization is not commenting on any possible restrictive legislation at this time.

“Allowing live dismemberment of any unborn child is gruesome, inhumane and violates that child’s human rights,” Macklem said. “The left’s extreme position of allowing abortion up to the point of birth is not in line with the values of the majority of North Carolinians.”

A staunch advocate for women’s rights, Butler said Democrats plan to stand strong on the issue. 

“I think [Republicans] also recognize there are some districts that are not going to take kindly to any further infringement on women to control their own bodies,” Butler said. “Any further restrictions would de facto make abortions illegal or unattainable — it’s the same thing.”

Gov. Cooper has said he would veto any bill that crossed his desk further restricting abortion.


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