McCrory ready to sign latest abortion bill proposal

Jul. 12, 2013 @ 08:31 PM

RALEIGH — North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said Friday he would sign a new version of an abortion bill into law if it reaches his desk because Republican legislators made changes that he said won't limit abortion access.

Abortion rights groups argue abortion clinics are still likely to close under the updated legislation, which could receive final legislative approval next week, and accused the GOP governor of breaking a campaign promise if he signs it.

McCrory's announcement came two days after he threatened to veto the previous legislation the Senate passed last week for how it addressed raising standards for abortion clinics through rules similar to outpatient surgery centers. The House changed the language to satisfy McCrory's health and human services department and approved the bill largely along party lines.

"If I get the House-passed bill ... I'll sign it," McCrory said in a statement, released after he made similar comments to media outlets while visiting New Bern.

"The recent House version allows the medical professionals at the Department of Health and Human Services to write the rules which will ensure women's safety," he said. "I want to thank those who worked on an improved bill which will better protect women while not further limiting access."

The Senate must vote to agree to the changes before it goes to McCrory. That can't happen before Monday evening at the earliest.

The updated version authorizes state HHS to apply standards for ambulatory surgical centers to the clinics to address on-site recovery, protect patient privacy and ensure patients with complications receive necessary medical attention "while not unduly restricting access."

Only one abortion operator in North Carolina is a licensed ambulatory surgical center. It will be too expensive for many of the other 16 clinics in the state to upgrade facilities and comply with the regulations, leading to closures, abortion rights advocates and Democrats opposed to the measure say.

NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, Planned Parenthood Health Systems and legislative Democrats on Friday pointed again to McCrory's answer to a question in a televised gubernatorial debate last October. When asked which additional abortion restrictions he would agree to sign into law, McCrory said, "None."

He's now poised to break his promise, the groups said, adding the bill has been changed imperceptibly by House Republicans. The provisions in the bill, if enacted, "could cause women to lose access to a safe and legal procedure," Planned Parenthood said in a release.

"If the governor wants to be known as a man of character, he will veto this bill," state NARAL Executive Director Suzanne Buckley said. "North Carolinians are watching, and they will remember this in 2016," the year McCrory would seek re-election.

Republicans backing the bill say higher standards are needed in light of state health officials ordering clinics in Durham and Charlotte to close earlier this year for rule violations.

The legislation also directs doctors to be physically present for an entire surgical abortion and when a patient takes the first dose for a chemically induced abortion. Anti-abortion group North Carolina Right to Life said the restriction on chemically induced abortions would prevent doctors from seeing a patient through a video feed and directing the dosage remotely.

The measure also would prohibit carrying out abortions on the basis of gender, curb abortion insurance coverage and expand the ability of doctors and nurses to refuse to participate in an abortion on ethical or religious grounds to other medical professionals.

McCrory also reiterated he would veto the previous version of the bill if he received it. McCrory has a third option with legislation — letting it become law without his signature.

Opponents of both bills complained that the legislation was rushed through without the usual public notice other bills receive. Hundreds of activists have joined a broader protest at North Carolina's legislature against Republican policies, which have led to dozens of arrests for civil disobedience weekly almost every Monday since April.