Abortion education bill passes first vote in House
RALEIGH — A bill requiring North Carolina educators to teach that several risk factors, including abortions, can cause later premature births passed the first of two votes in the state House on Wednesday over lockstep Democratic opposition.
The bill, which originated in the Senate, initially included abortion as the only risk factor to be mentioned. Senators amended it to include other factors such as prenatal care and smoking. That won support from some Democrats, enabling the bill to pass by a vote of 38-10.
The vote in the House was 73-44.
The two parties dispute the scientific basis for including abortion as a cause of later premature birth.
Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, noted that the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force recommended teaching that induced abortion puts mothers at risk of later premature births after finding more than 120 publications support the conclusion. He noted that the legislature's own nonpartisan research staff found that $50 million a year in direct and indirect costs from health complications could be attributed to induced abortion.
Reproductive rights groups have noted that the Child Fatality Task Force was far from unanimous in its recommendation and used the word "risk," not "cause."
Minutes from the Task Force's discussions show reservations among some members about whether they were qualified to make such a recommendation. Serina Floyd of Duke University said at a November 2012 meeting that Mississippi has been found to have very high rates of premature birth but has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the U.S. Others suggested factors such as poverty and substance abuse might do more to explain any apparent link.
Democrats and other opponents have argued that major health groups such as the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found no clear evidence linking abortion to later premature births. That's led some to suggest the motive for the bill is political.
"This bill, as many bills this session, is really about anti-choice and about limiting access to abortion," said Rep. Alma Adams, D-Guilford.
But Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer, R-Mecklenburg, said abortion clinics in the state already explain to patients that the procedure could lead to later delivery complications such as premature birth.
"This is info that patients coming into an abortion clinic must receive," she said. "I see no reason that we shouldn't also be informing students about this."
Democrats launched a series of amendments that they also had proposed in past committee meetings. One succeeded: to require public charter schools to also teach students about risk factors and for the state to make the information available to private schools and home schools.
Other amendments failed, including one that would have required teaching students that premature birth risks are lowered with cervical pretreatment before abortions, another that would have let educators decide which factors to teach, and a third that would have replaced the word "cause" with "risk."
Republicans have argued that there's no significant difference between calling something a "risk factor" versus a "cause" and that teenagers are more likely to take the potential danger more seriously if the language remained the same.
Rep. Farmer Butterfield, D-Wilson, argued that there is a significant difference.
"By definition of cause and effect, the cause must always be present if the effect is to occur," she said.
Other lawmakers said they're not comfortable teaching seventh-grade students about abortion in schools.
The bill will need one final vote for approval, which could come Thursday.
It will then return to the Senate, which will have to approve the changes.