July 17--As abortion rights advocates wait for the North Carolina Senate to take
up the latest version of a bill adding regulations for clinics, it remains
uncertain what the legislation would mean for women seeking the procedure.
Gov. Pat McCrory has said he would sign the bill, which aims to hold abortion clinics to more stringent medical standards. But opponents say the Republican-led legislature's true intent is to limit access to abortions and force clinics to close.
The bill would prohibit abortion coverage offered through health care exchanges by cities and counties. It directs the state Department of Health and Human Services to place new standards on clinics in line with ambulatory surgical centers. Such centers offer same-day surgical care and hospital-based outpatient procedures, according to the Ambulatory Surgery Center Association.
The proposed bill does not say which standards for ambulatory surgical centers would fall on abortion clinics. They operate under different regulations. Those rules vary from facility structure requirements to the process of submitting plans for certification.
Similar legislation in Mississippi has left the state with one clinic approved for abortion services because of transfer agreements. Those agreements require doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at hospitals.
Abortion clinics now are not required to have transfer agreements in North Carolina.
The state Senate must vote to agree to the latest version of the bill, which has already passed the House. It would go next to McCrory's desk for his signature, perhaps this week.
Fifteen abortion clinics operate in the state, including an obstetrics-gynecology practice in Chapel Hill, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. The state's sole ambulatory surgical center licensed for abortions is Femcare in Asheville.
Fayetteville has two licensed abortion clinics -- Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina and Hallmark Women's Clinic. The Cumberland County Health Department does not offer abortion services, but it provides family planning to anyone in need, according to its public health director, Buck Wilson
Janet Colm, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina, said she could not say whether the nonprofit organization could afford spending potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars on its facilities to meet ambulatory surgical center standards. That depends on what new restrictions are applied to abortion clinics.
"The problem with the bill we have right now is it's up to the department to decide those requirements," Colm said. "What additional restrictions would be put on Planned Parenthood?"
Colm said 10,000 patients statewide visit Planned Parenthood locations each year. The centers also do cancer screenings, testing for sexually transmitted diseases and health counseling. Seventy percent of Planned Parenthood's patients are uninsured; most patients are 18 to 29 years old, Colm said.
"They trust us," she said. "They can get high-quality care here at affordable prices."
Joanna Odom, a volunteer with Agape Pregnancy Support Services in Fayetteville, said she personally does not believe abortions are a form of health care. But, Odom said, she favors more stringent rules for clinics.
"All clinics should be regulated. They should be treated the same as surgical centers," Odom said. "This bill will save more lives."
Democratic state lawmakers urged their Republican colleagues to rethink the bill, even after revisions were made last week. Rep. Marvin Lucas of Cumberland County told House members during a debate Thursday that abortion is a discussion best left at home.
"I've sat here for a little better than three hours over an issue the Supreme Court decided many years ago, (that) the process was legal," Lucas said.
Bill opponents say they worry that additional restrictions on abortion clinics would lead to illegal operations.
"If women don't have access to safe and legal abortions, they would have to travel, if they can afford to do that," Colm said.
Democratic Rep. Rick Glazier of Fayetteville said the bill's true intent is eliminating reproductive choice.
Parts of the bill, such as new requirements for abortion clinics, would take effect this fall if the legislation is passed.
Staff writer Alicia Banks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-2728.
(c)2013 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
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