A divided North Carolina House has approved an abortion bill that supporters say will make the procedure safer for women. But opponents argue it is a thinly-veiled attempt to shut down clinics and curb reproductive rights.
The chamber voted 74-41 Thursday after an impassioned three-hour debate over directing regulators to increase standards for abortion clinics and requiring doctors to remain present for an entire surgical abortion. The physician also must be present when a woman takes the first dose for a chemically induced abortion.
The measure also would prohibit gender-selective abortions, curb abortion insurance coverage and expand conscientiously objection to participate in abortions.
After the vote, the Speaker of the House congratulated the gallery for being respectful during debate, but one woman yelled "You don't respect us," which prompted him to clear the gallery.
"It is extremely disappointing that House members have approved such sweeping restrictions on women's health care options just one day after this proposal was unveiled to the public," said Sarah Preston, the policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina. "This legislation is not designed to protect women's health; it is designed to shut down clinics and restrict access to comprehensive and often lifesaving health care, pure and simple."
The proposed legislation has some changes from a Senate bill approved last week. Republicans tweaked the bill Wednesday after Governor Pat McCrory threatened a veto. The Governor said he is not in favor of a change that limits abortion access, but is expected to consider laws to increase the health and safety protections for women.
The changes were tacked onto a bill about motorcycle safety. Last week, senators added the issue on to a bill about Islamic Sharia law. Critics call the maneuvers a sneak attack on abortion rights. Even McCrory expressed his unhappiness, saying such last minute tactics were the way the Democrats did business.
Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos said Tuesday the Senate requirements were too vague and potentially extremely expensive for clinics to follow and suggested that increasing funds for more frequent clinic inspections could improve clinic safety.
The bill approved Wednesday authorizes the department to apply standards for surgery centers to standards for clinics to address on-site recovery, protect patient privacy, and ensure patients with complications receive necessary medical attention "while not unduly restricting access."
Critics of the Senate bill said it would cause the shutdown of abortion clinics. They said Thursday the House changes would still have the same effect.
The bill now returns to the Senate, which passed a similar bill last week but Gov. Pat McCrory later threatened a veto upon without changes. The House altered the measure.
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