The North Carolina legislature finalized an agreement on a contentious two-year, $20.6 billion budget late Sunday night. Included are a number of agenda items that progressive groups and thousands of North Carolinians have been protesting weekly at the capitol, such as funding for a school voucher program, $1 million a year to implement a voter ID law, and a line item that will shift $250,000 from North Carolina’s Woman’s Health Fund to deceptive crisis pregnancy centers. Now, with only a few days before the session ends, the question on many people’s minds is whether the state assembly will send an anti-abortion bill to the governor as well.
Abortion restrictions in the state continue to take a circuitous path to Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk, and at this point they are still far from the finish line. HB 695, a bill that was originally drafted to prohibit Sharia law in North Carolina, but which was amended with anti-choice provisions, is likely dead for the session. The original language in HB 695 that dealt with legal court proceedings was inserted last week into HB 522, a bill that previously addressed tenant rental issues. The cut-and-paste legislative move implies that the bill, which the governor had already threatened to veto, will not end up functioning as a vehicle for restricting abortion access.
The anti-choice amendments, which include restrictions on medication abortion, sex-selective abortion, and offering coverage for abortion in the state health insurance exchange, are more likely to become law as part of SB 353, a motorcycle safety bill that was rewritten to include a version of the amendments from HB 695. The house has already approved SB 353, but the bill has now spent a week in a senate committee, and still no hearing has been scheduled. The governor has already promised to sign the bill, making it unclear what is causing the committee to delay. Senate rules committee Chairman Tom Apodaca (R-Henderson) told ABC News he “didn’t know what would happen with the legislation.”
Such comments appear to have made anti-choice advocates nervous in the session’s waning days. North Carolina Right to Life issued an action alert imploring its supporters, “TIME IS RUNNING OUT! If the Senate does not concur, more babies will die.”
Meanwhile, pro-choice advocates are most concerned about an amendment in the bill that would allow the state to decide which aspects of licensing for ambulatory surgical centers the state’s abortion clinics have to follow. As the Charlotte News Observer notes, it’s difficult to assess the potential impact of this rule since the specific regulations haven’t been discussed or even proposed; the bill says only that the requirements must avoid “unduly restricting access.”
It’s impossible to know for sure what regulations would “unduly” restrict access until a clinic closes, but one provider has already said that regardless of what the legislature passes, it will remain open. “Planned Parenthood will be here for our patients no matter what,” Planned Parenthood Health System spokeswoman Melissa Reed told the Star News of Wilmington. “Our option would be we’d have to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to meet those guidelines, and that’s what we’ll do. We’ll reach out to make sure we meet those standards but it’s not an easy thing to do.”
Planned Parenthood has nine clinics in the state, and four of those clinics provide abortion services.
North Carolina’s 2013 legislative session is expected to end Thursday. The state assembly will not meet again until May 2014.