RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Social conservatives pushed a series of new abortion rule changes nearly completely through the Republican-led state Senate late Tuesday, including some that would place new restrictions on clinics and doctors and prohibit gender-selective abortions.
At a Senate committee meeting, 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. A final Senate vote is scheduled for Wednesday.
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.
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 North Carolina 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.
Tuesday’s 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” while defending the bill. 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, than … 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 your to keep your commitment.”
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.
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.
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