Rep. Sarah Stevems explains the various parts of the 46-page bill ahead of Wednesday night’s vote. (Photo: NCGA video feed)
House Republicans voted for new restrictions on abortion as members of the public heckled them and House Democrats filed a formal protest.
The bill banning most abortions after 12 weeks passed along party lines Wednesday night, with 71 Republicans voting for it, including Rep. Tricia Cotham of Mecklenburg County, and 46 Democrats voting against it. Two Democrats and one Republican were absent.
Cotham was a Democrat until a few weeks ago, and was elected to office last year from an overwhelming Democratic district while calling herself an unwavering supporter of abortion rights. Cotham’s party switch gave House Republicans a 72-member veto-proof majority.
Gov. Roy Cooper said on Twitter that he would veto the bill. “I will veto this extreme ban and need everyone’s help to uphold it,” Cooper wrote.
Upholding a veto appears to be unlikely. The Senate votes on the bill Thursday and Republicans in that chamber also have enough members to turn back a veto.
Rep. Sarah Stevens, a Surry County Republican, called Senate bill 20 “a mainstream approach” during Wednesday night’s debate. Democrats, however, said Republicans are making decisions for women they don’t know, may be endangering women’s lives, are imposing onerous documentation requirements on doctors, and will make doctors worried about prosecution.
Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Guilford County Democrat, said she’s heard about women in states with abortion bans who could not get treatment for their miscarriages at hospitals and were left to bleed uncontrollably.
Rep. Kristin Baker, MD, a Republican from Cabarrus County, said the physician judgment hasn’t changed.
Harrison said that was probably true in other states with abortion bans, too. “It’s just now the doctors feel a very chilling effect about whether they will be persecuted or prosecuted for treating women who are dying and need an abortion,” she said.
The bill, which became public late Tuesday night, would allow for abortions up to 12 weeks for any reason, but would add new requirements, such as three trips to a doctor’s office for people early in their pregnancies who take abortion pills.
About 60% of people seeking abortions in North Carolina take abortion pills, according to the CDC. State law already goes beyond FDA requirements. The FDA has decided that no in-person medical visits are necessary for people who take abortion pills.
The bill has exceptions to the 12-week ban for cases of rape or incest, life-threatening fetal anomalies, or the life of the mother.
Rape and incest don’t need to be reported to law enforcement as a requirement for an abortion through the 20th week, but Democrats could not exact a promise that such a requirement would never be added to the law.
“At this time, that is not required,” said Stevens.
The bill would put new licensing requirements on abortion clinics, requiring them to meet standards for ambulatory surgical centers, Stevens said. Planned Parenthood South Atlantic said none of their clinics now meet those requirements.
All surgical abortions after 12 weeks would have to be performed in a hospital.
The bill would outlaw sending abortion pills to people through the mail.
The bill includes money for increased foster care assistance, paid parental leave for state employees and teachers, and contraceptives for needy patients.
Rep. Laura Budd, a Mecklenburg Democrat, said Republicans should have agreed to these initiatives without adding them to an abortion ban.
They are an effort “to cover up the stripping of a woman’s dignity,” she said.
Rep. Ya Liu spoke of her two difficult pregnancies. They both ended happily, she said, but pregnant women may have medical conditions that threaten their lives, including high blood pressure, heart conditions, and kidney disease.
“We trust our doctors to guide our health care decisions,” she said. Doctors should be thinking only of their patients, not lawyers and courts, the Wake Democrat said.
“We want doctors to care for us without fear of potential prosecution,” she said. “We need our doctors to think about us, only us.”
The North Carolina Medical Society issued a statement opposing numerous policy changes proposed by the legislation and the new burdensome restrictions on patient access to comprehensive reproductive care.
Hundreds of people opposed to the bill jammed into the Legislative Building on Wednesday afternoon to hear the debate. The House session was delayed for a half hour and then House Speaker Tim Moore pushed the debate and vote on the abortion ban to the end of the agenda. Moore moved votes on more than three dozen other bills ahead of the abortion bill, with the session broken up by a dinner break of more than an hour. By the time debate on the abortion ban started, the House gallery was considerably emptier than it was six hours earlier.
The final party line vote was 71-46. Click here to view the roll call vote on the Care for Women, Children, and Families Act.
Bonus content: Watch the final few minutes of debate with remarks from Rep. Julie von Haefen (D-Wake Co.) followed by the vote on the Senate Bill 20.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.