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N.C. Abortion-Rights Advocates Urge Officials To Put Aside Politics While Setting Clinic Rules

December 22, 2014 — At a hearing Friday, abortion-rights supporters urged North Carolina health officials to consider scientific evidence while crafting new abortion clinic regulations, rather than basing them on political motives, the AP/ABC 11 News reports (AP/ABC 11 News, 12/19).

Details of the Proposed Regulations

North Carolina's Department of Health and Human Services earlier this month released a draft rule that proposes regulations for abortion clinics under a state law enacted last year (SL 2013-366).

The law, which contains several antiabortion-rights provisions, allows the state DHHS to "apply any requirement" for ambulatory surgical centers to abortion clinics, as long as the regulations do not impede access to abortion. Some of the law's provisions are being challenged in court.

The proposal does not appear to include changes that could potentially cause some clinics to close, such as requirements that abortion clinics meet the same building standards as ambulatory surgical centers. However, the proposed regulations do increase oversight of the state's abortion clinics.

For example, the draft rule would require each clinic to develop a governing authority board to meet once annually. The board would choose a CEO who has final say in the clinic's daily operations. In addition, clinics would be required to have a quality assurance board that includes at least one physician and meets quarterly to review clinic procedures, protocols and records.

Further, the proposal would require each clinic to choose a nursing supervisor, keep complete personnel records, and have procedure handbooks and equipment manuals available on site. Clinics also would be required to have a defibrillator on site and would have to give patients contact numbers that are staffed at all times in case of complications after an abortion.

The proposal also would require clinics to try to reach a "transfer agreement" with a local hospital, but the clinics would not be considered out of compliance if the attempt does not result in an agreement and the clinic owner has documentation of the attempt (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/2).

Hearing Details

Several dozen people attended a public hearing on the proposed rules on Friday (AP/ABC 11 News, 12/19). According to the Raleigh News & Observer, the vast majority of attendees were abortion-rights supporters (Jarvis, Raleigh News & Observer, 12/19).

Officials heard comments from about 15 people, including several doctors who urged the state DHHS to protect abortion access and a few speakers who called for stricter regulations.

While some attendees raised issues about state lawmakers' intentions, many applauded the department for taking science and doctors' medical opinions into consideration while crafting the rules (AP/ABC 11 News, 12/19). Clinic owner and director Deborah Walsh, a member of the group that developed the proposal, said some of the regulations were unnecessary but commended the overall process. "My clinic is strictly regulated, and it always has been," said Walsh, whose operates a clinic in Charlotte, N.C. (Raleigh News & Observer, 12/19).

NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Foundation Executive Director Suzanne Buckley said, "There is no question that ... the law that forced these regulations to be created was enacted by legislators with a single goal: to prevent women from accessing safe and legal abortion care in North Carolina." However, she added that state health officials consulted with physicians while creating the proposed regulations "to ensure that they comport with the relevant medical standards" (AP/ABC 11 News, 12/19).

However, N.C. Values Coalition Executive Director Tami Fitzgerald criticized the proposal for not going far enough and favoring the "abortion industry" (Raleigh News & Observer, 12/19).

Next Steps

The state DHHS will consider public comments on the proposal until the end of next month. The regulations will then go to the state Rules Review Commission for consideration. The state Legislature is also likely to weigh in (AP/ABC 11 News, 12/19).