Tuesday, July 23, 2024

General Assembly passes 12-week abortion ban, local Republicans silent on vote

Women gathered at the corner of 3rd and Princess streets to protest the overturning of Roe v. Wade last summer. (Port City Daily/Brenna Flanagan)

WILMINGTON — Legislation that would further restrict abortion access has made it to the governor’s desk after Republican state legislators fast-tracked the legislation to meet the Thursday crossover deadline. 

Senate Bill 20, which up until Tuesday night was legislation for safe surrendering infants, bans elective abortions after 12 weeks and after 20 weeks in the case of rape or incest. It allows abortion access for life-threatening pregnancies for the entirety of a pregnancy.

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

On Tuesday night, Republican legislators announced a conference committee in both chambers to amend the bill to include 46 pages of abortion restrictions. 

“What they’ve done is, we call it a ‘gut and amend,’” Rep. Deb Butler (D-New Hanover) said to Port City Daily Wednesday. “They take all of the things out of another bill and put new stuff into it to try to get past the crossover. I think it’s an ill conceived process to get a bill across the finish line — the Republican leadership is not big on transparency and involvement.” 

Butler has been an advocate for abortion access, having proposed the Remove Barriers to Gain Access (RGB) Act in March, along with three other Democratic women. Her bill proposes to legalize abortion until viability, as the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade outlined before being overturned in June 2022. 

Butler was the only Cape Fear representative to vote against the conference report; Charles Miller (R-New Hanover, Brunswick), Frank Iler (R-Brunswick), and Carson Smith (R-Pender) were in favor, along with Sens. Michael Lee (R-New Hanover), Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick), and Brent Jackson (R-Pender, Bladen, Duplin, Sampson, Jones). 

Rep. Ted Davis (R-New Hanover) was absent for the vote.

At a candidate forum hosted by PCD, WECT and WHQR in October, Davis said he thought the state’s current abortion law, which allows the procedure up to 20 weeks, was sufficient. 

“Abortion is a very emotional, personal decision,” he said. “There are people on the far-left that want to be able to have an abortion up to the day the child is born. There are people on the far right that don’t want abortion to be allowed at all. I’m an attorney, former prosecutor, I believe in the word of the law. I support what the law is right now in North Carolina, and that is that a woman can have access to an abortion up to the first 20 weeks of pregnancy; then after that, in order to have an abortion, I believe in reasonable restrictions. And those reasonable restrictions are rape, incest, the viability of the fetus or the health of the mother.”

Lee echoed at the forum the same sentiments he wrote in an op-ed in the StarNews, indicating a pregnant woman should have the right to choose through the first semester, up to the twelfth week, with restrictions in place after. In the case Republican lawmakers tried to make the law more restrictive, he said he would negotiate with them in an attempt to persuade them otherwise. 

“If they try to be more restrictive than what I wrote in that op-ed, I would vote against it,” Lee said at the media forum last fall.

Iler also agreed with allowing access through the first trimester. 

“There is room there to come up with a good plan,” he said.

At the forum, Butler forecasted Thursday’s vote.

“Let’s be clear about one thing: the speaker of the North Carolina House has said that if he achieves a supermajority, there will be an abortion ban passed in North Carolina,” Butler told the audience at the forum. 

The Republicans gained a supermajority in April after former Democrat Tricia Cotham defected to the GOP; she voted in favor of the report, despite running on a platform last year that included a woman’s right to choose an abortion. 

On Wednesday, Butler told Port City Daily the path of the report, introduced and passed both chambers in less than 48 hours, was an attempt to minimize its exposure.

“If you’re proud of legislation, you don’t bury it in a [46]-page bill,” Butler said. 

The legislation also cleared an attempt from senators to slow it down, who pointed out it could be in violation of state law. Currently, North Carolina law stipulates an appropriations bill past the filing deadline, in this case April 25, cannot be introduced unless the budget is passed — it has not.

There is a provision in this legislation that suspends that law, but lawmakers pointed out they have not yet voted to suspend it; by proxy they would be breaking the law by considering the report.

President Pro Tempore Phil Berger decided against the attempt, stating the law would be suspended upon passage of the report; that decision was appealed to the rules committee chair, Sen. Rabon. He upheld the president’s decision. Again, the decision was appealed and went to a Senate vote; it failed 30-20.

Aside from the reduction of the timeline to access an abortion, the bill proposes a host of other regulations on reproductive health.

The conference report requires physicians to provide more information to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services on abortion procedures, including probable gestational age of the fetus at the time the procedure, fetus measurements and an ultrasound image of the fetus. This information will be collected on an annual basis.

Several House Democrats claimed these provisions violate the privacy of patients.

The conference report protects physicians and other healthcare workers from performing abortions on “moral, ethical, or religious grounds.” Abortions conducted after the first trimester must be done in a hospital, as opposed to an abortion clinic or ambulatory surgery facility, currently allowed. 

While North Carolina requires a 72-hour waiting period between a patient’s first visit and an abortion, the first appointment is permitted to occur via phone. In this legislation, the visit must be in person, and the pregnant person is required to view an ultrasound of the fetus and listen to its heart beat. This applies to medical abortions as well — the legislation prohibits medications used to induce an abortion from being mailed to pregnant people.

A physician who violates any provision of the legislation is subject to discipline by the North Carolina Medical Board and pharmacists to the North Carolina Board of Pharmacy.

During Wednesday’s House discussion, several Democrats pointed out that although the legislation does not require rape victims to report the crime to law enforcement, several states with similar bills have come back to require a report in subsequent legislation.

During Thursday’s Senate vote, Sen. Amy Galey said the oversight provisions are to provide information and time for women to make the best decisions. She claimed most women want to maintain their pregnancies, yet choose an abortion in a time of “crisis.” 

“Abortion is not the solution to challenges women face,” Galey said.

The conference report also provides more funding for child and pregnancy care. Multiple Republican lawmakers claimed more women will elect not to terminate their pregnancies due to the legislation’s funding for child and parent programs. 

$180 million is included in state and federal funds for services like child care and foster care. This includes: 

  • $3.5 million in grants for local health departments and nonprofit community health centers for contraceptive care 
  • $2.8 million (with a federal match) for Medicare and Medicaid coverage of prenatal care
  • $75 million in state funds to expand access to child care 
  • Nearly $59 million in state funds (plus additional federal matching funds) for foster care, kinship care and children’s homes
  • $20 million in state funds for up to eight weeks of maternity and paternity leave for teachers and state employees 
  • More than $16 million in state and federal matching funds to address infant and maternal mortality

Several Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate pointed out they have been fighting for these programs and funding for years and have been met with resistance from their colleagues across the aisle. 

“You know, wrap it in bows and layer money over it to try to make it palatable to people, but the bottom line is you’re stripping North Carolina women of the right to control their own bodies,” Butler said. 

Democratic lawmakers also pointed out many of the lawmakers making the decision will not ever be affected by it. Notably, if only women legislators voted on the conference report, it would’ve failed. 

Aside from abortion restrictions, tucked into the report are limitations on midwifery. SB 20 requires anyone offering birthing services be a certified nurse midwife — a licensed nurse that has completed a midwife education program with the Accreditation Commission for Midwifery Education and passed a national certification examination. 

The report also mandates planned home births attended by a certified nurse midwife shall be limited to low-risk pregnancies. It states “pregnancies deemed inadvisable for home births by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee on Obstetric Practice shall be prohibited.” 

Any person practicing midwifery without being approved will be guilty of Class 3 misdemeanor.

Having passed both chambers, the report now goes to Gov. Roy Cooper, who has vetoed similar abortion restrictions in the past. However, the GOP has a supermajority in both chambers, indicating the legislation can pass without governor approval. 

Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com.

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