For six months, moderates in the Tar Heel state have been waiting for their governor to stand up to the far right of his party. Its not that North Carolinians thought theyd elected a Democrat in Pat McCrory last November. They just thought they were voting for a moderate Republican with a history of finding common ideological ground.
Instead, McCrory has repeatedly deferred to extreme conservatives since taking office in January, from unnecessarily ending unemployment benefits for 70,000 people to denying 500,000 the health care that would have come from expanding federal payments to the states Medicaid program.
But this week, the governor may be taking a stand, an important one, that moderates can recognize. Will it last?
McCrory, in a statement Wednesday morning, threatened to veto a House bill that restricts abortions by placing expensive licensing requirements on clinics while making it more difficult for doctors to perform procedures. McCrorys threat came a day after his Health and Human Services secretary, Dr. Aldona Wos, cautioned a House committee that the bill was far too complex to pass hastily. That warning came after McCrory criticized the House for springing the bill on the state without public notice, late in the day, right before a holiday.
Republicans arent listening. Led by Rep. Ruth Samuelson of Mecklenburg, they rushed forth another bill later Wednesday, again without public notice. Some lawmakers heard about the new bill only minutes before a House committee began discussing it and then only because a member of the media tweeted about it.
The new bill made a couple of concessions. It allowed pregnant women to take abortion-inducing medicine at home after an initial dose under a doctors supervision, and it relaxed regulations that abortion clinics would have to meet to stay in business. The latter was replaced, however, by vague language that allowed DHHS to change its rules regarding the certification of abortion clinics, including requiring them to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers. That provision was a red flag in the earlier bill.
The new bill also kept mandates that make it more difficult and costly for doctors to perform abortions, including that they must be physically present during the entire procedure. The intent remains clear to circumvent the law on abortion with unnecessary provisions. Said N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper: Even with these changes, restricting the health care rights of women is still bad public policy and will ignite more constitutional challenges in court.
Republican House leader Paul Stam told reporters that the governors concerns have been met with the new bill. But as Wos indicated Tuesday, her department needs time not to mention money for staffing before declaring how abortion clinics could be safer. Both sides of the abortion debate should be open to the answers she might find, but rushing forth restrictions and studying them later is a backward approach to the issue.
All of which leaves McCrory with a politically difficult, yet clear, path ahead. He promised North Carolinians last October that he wouldnt sign abortion restrictions into law. He criticized a bill doing so this week because, among other reasons, it was rushed. Now he confronts another bill, once again rushed, once again designed to restrict abortions. And again we wonder: Will we see the governor we thought we were getting?