North Carolina House takes up abortion bill

Republican Conference Leader Ruth Samuelson.
July 9, 2013 3:20:34 PM PDT
Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos told lawmakers Tuesday that her department has only 10 full-time inspectors for all the hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, dialysis facilities, psychiatric care centers, and abortion clinics in the entire state. As a result, her office can only inspect abortion clinics every 3-5 years.

Wos called for more dedicated resources for more frequent regular inspections.

The secretary's comments came as the House Health Care Committee took up a sweeping abortion bill passed last week in the North Carolina Senate that would require abortion clinics to meet the operating standards of ambulatory surgery centers and require physicians be present when the procedure is performed. The bill would also prohibit gender-selective abortions.

Abortion rights groups say the ambulatory surgery requirements could force clinics to close. Bill supporters say it would ensure clinics are safe for women.

Wos told lawmakers her department's regulations have not been updated since 1995. She said she's concerned that the wording of the proposed new bill is too vague and she called for a "thorough review of what's in place" as the debate over the bill moves forward.

"I urge you to follow the Governor's advice and study these issues and how North Carolina can best improve the safety for everyone," she offered.

Gov. Pat McCrory said Monday he wants further discussion and debate about some provisions in the bill he said appear to restrict abortion access. Wos echoed that Tuesday, saying she's also concerned about the line between additional restrictions and the intent to look out for the health and safety of women.

Republican Conference Leader Ruth Samuelson told Wos that the intent is not to try to add additional restrictions.

"The goal is safety. The goal is not to shut down clinics," she said.

Tuesday's debate came as dozens of pro-choice and pro-life protestors demonstrated at the General Assembly.

During the public comments session, opponents of the bill said North Carolina already has 18 pages of regulations for abortion clinics - making it one of the most highly regulated procedures in the state.

"Existing laws and regulations in North Carolina work. This is why existing providers that did not comply were shut down," offered Page Johnston with Planned Parenthood.

Johnston said shutting down clinics would mean the loss of other Planned Parenthood services including cancer screenings, birth control, and STD treatment. She said her organization helps some 25,000 North Carolinians a year.

But supporters of House Bill 695 said upping the requirements for abortion clinics to meet the same standards and ambulatory surgical centers are needed.

"This is a common sense requirement designed to help protect the safety of North Carolina women," offered John Rustin with the North Carolina Family Policy Council.

Rustin pointed to the shutdown of two North Carolina abortion clinics this year - one in Charlotte in May, and a second in Durham last week. In both cases, Rustin said it was because the clinics weren't protecting the safety and health of clients.

But bill opponents said legalizing abortion has always been about promoting the health of women - saying that before the Supreme Court legalized abortions, women regularly died in back-alley abortion clinics.

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