N.C. Antiabortion Bill Signed Into Law as Protests Continue

July 30, 2013 — North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) on Monday night signed into law an expansive antiabortion-rights measure (SB 353), while opponents held a 12-hour protest outside the executive mansion denouncing the bill, the Raleigh News & Observer reports (Frank, Raleigh News & Observer, 7/30).

The legislation would allow the state's Department of Health and Human Services to "apply any requirement" for ambulatory surgical centers to abortion clinics, as long as the regulations do not impede access to abortion. It also would require a physician to be present while the first drug used in a medication abortion is administered and would ban abortions based on the sex of the fetus. In addition, the measure would allow any health provider -- rather than just nurses and doctors -- to opt out of participating in abortions and prohibit insurance plans offered through cities, counties and through the state health insurance marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) from offering abortion coverage (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/29).

Only one of the state's 16 abortion clinics meets the standards for an ambulatory surgical center, and opponents of the legislation argue it could force almost all of the other clinics to close. A new ambulatory surgical center costs about $1 million more than an abortion clinic to build, the director of the state Division of Health Service Regulation told lawmakers earlier this month. However, it will not be clear how much it would cost existing clinics to meet the standards until DHHS finalizes the regulations (AP/Politico, 7/29).

Gov. McCrory Defends Signing Bill

McCrory in a statement Monday evening suggested his decision to approve the measure does not contradict his campaign promise not to sign any legislation that would further restrict abortion access (Raleigh News & Observer, 7/30).

"These higher standards will result in safer conditions for North Carolina women," he said, adding, "This law does not further limit access and those who contend it does are more interested in politics than the health and safety of our citizens."

McCrory previously threated to veto a Senate version of the bill, which he argued was expressly designed to close clinics (Brooks, Reuters, 7/29). He changed his mind after the House reworked the language of the bill (Raleigh News & Observer, 7/30).

Abortion-Rights Supporters Respond

Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards said Monday night that it was "appalling that Governor McCrory would go back on his campaign promise and sign into law legislation that is on the wrong side of public opinion and dangerous for women's health."

She added that North Carolina women "aren't just going to stand by and take this," explaining, "The record number of sneak attacks on women's health in North Carolina, Texas and beyond has created a whole new generation of activists who are ready to hold their elected officials accountable" (Eilperin, "Post Politics," Washington Post, 7/29).

Sarah Preston -- policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina -- in a statement said it is "incredibly disappointing" that McCrory broke his campaign promise. She added that the law "will severely restrict abortion access and comprehensive health care for countless North Carolina women."

Abortion-rights supporters who rallied against the legislation plan to continue their protests with another 12-hour vigil on Tuesday. Some also circled the block around the governor's residence on motorcycles on Monday night, in a reference to how legislators added the abortion restrictions to an unrelated bill on motorcycle safety (Raleigh News & Observer, 7/30).