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Originally published: 2013-07-11 12:25:04
Last modified: 2013-07-11 18:36:41

N.C. House approves new abortion legislation

by Anna Oakes

The N.C. House of Representatives voted 74-41 Thursday on a new version of abortion legislation following the governor's threat to veto a similar bill passed by the N.C. Senate.

A House committee on Wednesday added new language to an existing bill on motorcycle safety, Senate Bill 353, that would amend abortion laws in the state. The language includes some of the provisions approved by the Senate last week in House Bill 695 but differs in that it would not require abortion clinics to meet similar license standards as those required for ambulatory surgical centers.

Critics said that measure aimed to reduce access to abortion services, as only one clinic in the state currently meets those standards.

S353's new language would ban sex-selective abortions and bar health plans under the new federal health care exchange from covering abortion services -- provisions already approved by the House in other bills. It would also require a physician performing a surgical abortion to be physically present during the entire abortion procedure; for a drug-induced abortion, the physician would have to be present only for administration of the first drug, a change from H695.

Unlike H695, S353 would not require abortion clinics to meet ambulatory surgical center standards; instead, it directs the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to apply similar standards to abortion clinics to address patient safety "while not unduly restricting access."

"Our abortion centers need to be brought into the 21st century," said Rep. Ruth Samuelson, a Republican from Charlotte.

But Rep. Beverly Earle, a Charlotte Democrat, said she was insulted by the maneuvers to enact the changes so quickly and without sufficient public notice.

"We've made a mockery of women's health and safety," Earle said. Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield, a Democrat from Wilson, said the bill could still force clinics to close depending on what standards DHHS puts into place.

The changes to S353 came after Republican Gov. Pat McCrory on Wednesday threatened to veto H695 "unless significant changes and clarifications are made."

H695 passed the Republican-led Senate on second reading July 2 only hours after the abortion language was added to a bill on foreign laws. State Sen. Dan Soucek of Boone told Watauga Democrat on Tuesday that he submitted the amendment in the Senate Judiciary I Committee that added the abortion language to H695.

DHHS Secretary Aldana Wos urged the House to "spend more time studying these issues" at a public hearing held by a House committee Tuesday.

H695 was scheduled to be considered for concurrence in the House Wednesday but was withdrawn from the calendar and referred to a committee. The same day, S353 was amended and placed on the House calendar for Thursday.