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McCrory voices concern over abortion bill passed by the Senate

By Rob Christensen, John Frank and Caitlin Owens
rchristensen@newsobserver.com

More Information

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  • What the bill does

    Here are the abortion provisions in House Bill 695:

    Funding: Prohibits health plans participating in the federal health care exchange from covering abortions. Also says state funds can’t be used for abortions except to save the mother’s life or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. Bans city and county health plans from offering abortion coverage except in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother’s life.

    Restrictions on doctors: Doctors must remain in the room for the entire procedure whether surgery is performed or the abortion is induced by drugs, called a medical abortion.

    Limits on abortion clinics: Abortion clinics would have to have transfer agreements with hospitals, and would have to go through a licensing process similar to that required for outpatient surgical clinics. Currently only one clinic in the state meets that standard; none of the state’s four Planned Parenthood Clinics meets it.

    Sex-selection: Prohibits doctors from performing an abortion if they know the mother wants the abortion because of the baby’s gender.

    Protections: Allows any health care provider – not just doctors and nurses – to refuse to provide abortion-related services.



RALEIGH Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday voiced reservations about the abortion bill before the legislature – just days after his administration shuttered its second abortion clinic in a three-month period for safety reasons.

At a news conference to talk about his first six months in office, McCrory said the abortion question was far more complicated than partisans on either side have portrayed it, and that the bill that passed the Senate last week would require more study.

Speaking several days after his administration shut down a Durham abortion clinic for health violations, McCrory said he would move aggressively to protect women’s health. But he acknowledged a campaign promise that he would not support new restrictions on abortions.

“There is a fine line between safety measures and restrictions,” McCrory told reporters at the Executive Mansion. “But those two lines should not be confused. I am very concerned about the responsibility to ensure that the health of women is protected.”

But McCrory left in doubt whether he would support the bill, perhaps leaving himself room for negotiations.

Asked whether he viewed the abortion bill as primarily dealing with women’s safety or restricting access, McCrory said, “I think parts of the bill, personally, deal with safety and help protect these women, as has been seen in Durham. But I also see that there are parts of the bill that clearly cross that line that could add further restrictions to that access. I think that is where we need further discussions and further debate.”

Bill about foreign law

A House committee is scheduled to take up the abortion bill, House Bill 695, Tuesday morning. The bill requires abortion clinics to meet standards similar to those of outpatient surgery clinics. It also requires doctors to be present when women take pills that induce abortions.

The bill passed the Senate last week after being inserted into a bill that specifies that foreign law cannot be considered in family law cases. Democrats and supporters of abortion were outraged that the bill popped up without notice late in the day before a holiday. The bill was voted out of committee and straight to the floor last Tuesday. It was given final approval the next day, as several hundred angry women watched from the gallery. McCrory issued a statement last week criticizing the process, saying, “Regardless of what party is in charge or what important issue is being discussed, the process must be appropriate and thorough.”

He reiterated that point Monday, saying he hoped lawmakers would discuss the issue “during the next several days, or weeks or months or whatever it takes to understand that process.

“This is a much more complex issue regarding regulations than I think either the right or the left or frankly even the media are discussing. These are complex and tough issues that deserve review and scrutiny and thorough examination, and that is what I am asking for.”

The abortion bill puts McCrory in a politically difficult spot, between the social conservatives who hope for the backing of the first Republican governor in 20 years, and McCrory’s campaign promise – made when he was wooing independents and Democrats – not to support new abortion restrictions. It also puts House Speaker Thom Tillis, who has announced plans to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan next year, in a politically uncomfortable position. Tillis did not respond to a request for comment.

Durham clinic shut down

State inspectors on Friday shut down The Baker Clinic for Women in Durham after having found that the facility “failed to ensure quality control was performed in blood banking” for 108 patients. The state inspectors found that the clinic failed to ensure that the blood was tested daily, was not kept in an acceptable room temperature range, and was otherwise not meeting testing specifications.

Ricky Diaz, a spokesman for DHHS, said it was a routine inspection and one of the first at the clinic, which opened Jan. 4.

Supporters of the abortion legislation cited Durham shutdown as justification for their legislation.

“This is exactly the type of substandard ‘medical’ care threatening women’s health that we intended to fight with the legislation we passed last week,” said Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Eden.

Dr. John Baker, the clinic’s founder, said the clinic was still in its start-up phase had seen only 108 patients – a small number for such a clinic.

Baker said he was unaware of a regulation that requires abortion clinics to perform a control test while doing Rh(D) (Rhesus) testing. An Rh test identifies the blood type of a woman as either Rh positive or Rh negative. Women who test Rh negative are treated to prevent problems if they become pregnant again.

“This is my own lack of understanding of that requirement,” he said. “I take responsibility for correcting it.”

Baker called the regulation a “technicality” and said the clinic will fix the issues found in a review. He does not know how long the re-opening process will take.

Baker also said that although the timing of his clinic’s review and the current legislative climate are coincidental, the “hyper vigilance” of the health department results from the political scene.

“This has nothing to do with patient safety,” he said. “Legislators around the country are trying to legislate abortion out of existence. They can only go so far, so they go as far as they can.”

He also sees the suspension as evidence that the health department is “doing its job and doing it well,” ensuring the safety of women who receive abortions.

McCrory noted that in April, a Charlotte abortion clinic was temporarily shut down because of safety issues related to the administration of a drug that terminates pregnancies. The Preferred Woman’s Health Center re-opened days later after the state said it was satisfied the problem had been addressed.

The governor said the state is understaffed to carry out inspections.

Diaz said the facilities are inspected on average once every two years by the Acute and Home Care Licensure and Certification Section, a 10-member unit that also regulates nursing homes and similar facilities. There are 16 abortion clinics in the state.

“We are going to make sure we enforce existing laws,” McCrory said.

Meanwhile, North Carolina’s two Catholic Bishops, the Rev. Michael F. Burbidge of Raleigh and the Rev. Peter J. Jugis of Charlotte, called on Catholics to contact their House members and urge them to support the House bill.

“A woman should be guaranteed safeguards when receiving this type of medical or surgical procedure,” Burbidge said. “She should expect no less.”

Christensen: 919-829-4532
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