December 17, 2013 — North Carolina officials are in the preliminary stages of developing rules for abortion clinics under a new state law (SB 353), the Raleigh News & Observer reports (Jarvis, Raleigh News & Observer, 12/13).
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) in July signed into law an expansive antiabortion-rights measure that would allow the state 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.
The bill 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, 7/30).
Although the state Department of Health and Human Services is required to provide lawmakers with an update on the progress by Jan.1, there is no deadline to create the rules for abortion clinics.
Permanent Rules Being Considered
The law permits DHHS to write temporary rules, but Drexdal Pratt, director of the state Division of Health Service Regulation, said officials are developing permanent rules, which require the state Rules Review Commission to solicit public comments. If there are at least 10 objections, which is expected with such a controversial law, the rules would go back to the state General Assembly for further review.
Pratt said his division is following the normal procedure for when state agencies develop rules to implement enacted laws, including drafting potential rules while soliciting input from various advocacy groups and experts. He described the rules as a "work in progress," adding that officials are "still getting feedback."
Both supporters and opponents of the law said the new rules should focus on women's health.
Paige Johnson -- vice president of external affairs for Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina, which opposed the bill and has been contacted for input -- said, "We have always welcomed the opportunity to speak to them as experts on women's health, and we appreciate the opportunity of being included."
Suzanne Buckley, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, warned that the new rules should not be about political ideology. She said, "We believe it's time for North Carolina lawmakers to stop playing politics with women's health." She said that the department's job is "to ensure the health, safety and well-being of all North Carolinians, not to promote a political agenda."
Tami Fitzgerald -- executive director of the N.C. Values Coalition, which supported the law and has not been asked to comment on potential rules -- said, "We continue to believe that abortion clinics should be held to the same standards other surgical facilities abide by," such as requiring providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and requiring clinics to have patient transfer agreements with hospitals (Raleigh News Observer, 12/13).