News Column

N.C. Senate Votes to Restrict Reproductive Rights

July 3, 2013

The North Carolina state Senate, after a long debate that invoked faith, constitutional rights and health statistics, approved a bill Wednesday that would restrict abortions by stepping up requirements for clinics and doctors.

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 29-12 as opponents filled the gallery above and hundreds more waited outside. The bill now goes to the House.

After the vote, people in the hall began chanting, "Shame, shame, shame." A woman in the gallery who yelled "Shame on you" was arrested.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest ordered the gallery cleared moments before the Senate adjourned.

Supporters said the new regulations are needed for safety, while opponents said the real intent is to deny access to abortions.

"This is an atrocious, shameful bill," said state Sen. Earline Parmon, a Winston-Salem Democrat. "It's about dictating to women about very personal medical decisions that should be left to a woman and her doctor. This is going to cause more back-alley abortions whether you want to admit it or not."

State Sen. Warren Daniel, a Morganton Republican, said the bill was about keeping women safe.

"We're not here today taking away the rights of women," he said. "We're taking away the rights of an industry to have substandard conditions."

An estimated 600 people showed up to protest new abortion restrictions, filling the gallery in the Senate chamber, and spilling outside the gallery onto the third floor. Many were wearing pink. At times during the debate they raised their arms and waved their hands in what they called "silent cheering."

At one point state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, a Chapel Hill Democrat, thanked them for their "silent protest."

Many of the women gathered outside said they were outraged by the surprise Senate vote Tuesday night to add more restrictions on surgical and medical abortions. The provisions, tacked onto an unrelated bill about Islamic law, requires abortion clinics to meet standards similar to those for outpatient surgery clinics. It also requires doctors to be present when women take pills that induce abortions.

The bill's supporters say it's about safety, but opponents said the real reason is to restrict abortions. A legislative staff member said only one abortion clinic in the state would meet the new licensing standards. A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood said she knew of none.

Women who found out about the vote on Facebook and Twitter last night came to the legislature on about 12 hours notice. By 9 a.m. the gallery was standing room only and hundreds more gathered outside throughout the morning.

"I'm outraged," said Donna Bailey of Raleigh, who has been to two moral Mondays. "This is outrageous. I feel like we're fighting the fight from 40 years ago."

"I've seen this happening elsewhere in the country," said Valerie Evans of Raleigh. "I feel like we have to stand up and push back."

Evans said she knew the Senate would probably approve the measure, but she wanted them to know that many people disapprove.

"It's sneaky," Tanya Olson of Durham said of the surprise Senate action. "It's not right. They have to know that people know this."

Bill supporters were in the crowd too, but they were far outnumbered by opponents who could be identified by their pink shirts.

"We want to protect unborn babies," said Amy Huffman, of Alamance County Right to Life.

Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the NC Values Coalition, surveying the scene, said: "The bill today is about protecting women's health. It's about making abortion clinics safe. We don't want to become the Gosnell of the South. We're firmly behind the bill."

The Gosnell reference alluded to Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia doctor, who is serving three consecutive life terms for killing infants during illegal late-term abortions.

The Philadelphia case has been referenced repeatedly by GOP supporters of the bill during the morning debate. While opponents of the bill argued that the state's oversight of abortions was strict and that North Carolina was not in danger of becoming Philadelphia.

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(c)2013 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

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Source: Copyright News & Observer (Raleigh, NC) 2013


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