The “Family, Faith, and Freedom Protection Act” passed the North Carolina senate Wednesday in a 29-12 vote, adding North Carolina to the list of states that have in recent weeks circumvented the traditional legislative process to push through sweeping anti-abortion bills. As passed, HB 695, which was ostensibly written to protect citizens from “foreign law,” includes restrictions on insurance coverage for abortion, licensing and admitting privileges for clinics and doctors, protocol for administering medication abortions, and sex-selective abortions.
The anti-abortion amendments in the bill were announced during a Tuesday evening session, to the surprise of most reproductive rights supporters in the state, though some of the bill’s supporters were reportedly told ahead of time. That procedural short-cut is what most riled opponents of the bill. “Anti-choice advocates clearly had more notice of this hearing than your own colleagues” in the state legislature, said state Sen. Ben Clark (D-Cumberland), addressing North Carolina Republicans on the senate floor Wednesday. Clark noted that anti-choice groups such as the Family Policy Council and North Carolina Values Coalition were present in the chamber for the committee hearing, despite Democratic lawmakers not receiving word of the new bill. “You can dress it up however you want, but this bill and the process that got it here is not worthy of this body.”
If signed into law, the new requirements for licensing clinics as ambulatory surgical centers are likely to severely restrict access to safe abortion care in the state. Of the 36 North Carolina abortion providers, only one currently meets the standards that would apply under the bill. According to bill supporters, that’s evidence that the regulations are necessary to protect women’s health. State Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell) said that without the restrictions, providers would continue to “work on an assembly line of procedures as they produce death.”
Opponents of the bill attempted to add three amendments, among them an amendment that would require patients taking erectile dysfunction medication to do so in the presence of a doctor, and another that would require a patient to wait 24 hours and watch a video before taking such drugs. Both “Viagra amendments” were quickly voted down with no debate.
Although Republicans tried to push the bill through quickly, a crowd of nearly 600 activists arrived at the capitol for Wednesday’s debate, most with less than 12 hours’ notice. Many filled the gallery, where they were told they must sit in complete silence and that any distraction would result in them being ejected or the full gallery being cleared. The audience was chastised once for laughing, once for clapping, and a final time for silently waving their hands in approval. “The legislators are your voice on the matter,” the state’s lieutenant governor warned them from the floor.
Still, the crowd held their tongues (and their hands) throughout the majority of the two-hour debate. But once the vote was cast and the session adjourned, they chanted “shame, shame” at the lawmakers as they were escorted out of the building to where the rest of the bill’s opponents were gathered.
HB 695 still requires house approval, but it is considered likely to pass, and will then proceed to the governor for signature. During his gubernatorial campaign, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory said he would not sign any abortion restrictions or other anti-choice legislation into law if he was elected. However, McCrory has recently appeared to break that promise, if not in word than in spirit; he supported a bill that would require educators to teach that abortion causes pre-term birth in subsequent pregnancies (despite agreement among major medical groups that this is not true), calling it an “education” bill rather than an anti-abortion bill to justify his support.
However, his statements regarding HB 695 suggest he may at least consider a veto because of the backdoor path the bill has taken to get to his desk. “It was not right then, and it is not right now,” Gov. McCrory told the Associated Press after the senate vote. “Regardless of what party is in charge or what important issue is being discussed, the process must be appropriate and thorough.”