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McCrory says he will sign House abortion bill

By Craig Jarvis
cjarvis@newsobserver.com

RALEIGH Gov. Pat McCrory on Friday said he would sign the House version of the abortion bill if it comes to his desk, but that he would still veto the Senate’s version if that’s what passes the General Assembly.

“The recent House version allows the medical professionals at the Department of Health and Human Services to write the rules which will ensure women’s safety,” McCrory said in a statement his office released. “I want to thank those who worked on an improved bill which will better protect women while not further limiting access.”

The announcement brought criticism from abortion-rights advocates and Democrats, who have been poised to strike if the governor appears to retreat from the position he staked out during a campaign debate last year saying he would not sign any new abortion restrictions into law.

McCrory said he doesn’t consider the provisions in the House bill that increase regulation of abortion clinics to be in conflict with his campaign promise because the regulations simply need updating to ensure patient safety.

The last time the state updated the regulations was in 1994.

“I will sign it because it doesn’t restrict further access and it’s safer, which was needed,” McCrory said in an interview in New Bern earlier Friday with a News 14 reporter, according to the TV station.

Last week, the Senate unexpectedly produced a new abortion bill that pulled together elements of three other bills and quickly passed it. On Monday, McCrory expressed reservations about the bill, telling reporters there was a distinction between safety measures and restrictions, and that he wanted to ensure women’s health was protected.

On Wednesday, he threatened to use his veto power for the first time if his concerns weren’t addressed. The announcement heartened abortion-rights supporters, but not for long. The House then crafted a new bill in consultation with the governor’s administration, which the full House approved Thursday.

There are not many differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The Senate bill would require abortion clinics to meet standards that are similar to outpatient surgery centers.

Only one clinic in the state meets those stringent standards and 16 others could have to close because they couldn’t afford to upgrade.

The House bill orders the state Department of Health and Human Services to develop regulations that in some instances might be as stringent as outpatient surgery centers if applicable, “while not unduly restricting access.” The bill also allows the state to develop temporary rules without legislative approval, and eventually come up with permanent rules.

The House bill’s sponsors say that it is meant to be less restrictive than the Senate bill, but opponents say it is vague and could end up erecting more barriers to abortion clinics than the other bill, depending on how the law is interpreted.

Since no one yet knows what the regulations will be, it is difficult to argue whether they are updated safeguards or actually restrictions intended to block access to abortions. But opponents are making the argument anyway.

“Women across North Carolina are learning the hard way that Pat McCrory would have said just about anything to become governor,” Senate Democratic Leader Martin Nesbitt of Asheville said in a statement. “If you’re going to make a promise in a campaign, you’d better keep it – because nobody’s going to forget. ...

“Instead, we’ve seen the governor play backroom political games so he could look tough while ultimately signing sweeping restrictions that will hurt thousands of women.”

Suzanne Buckley, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, rejected the prospect of the McCrory administration writing regulations that will ultimately make abortions safer.

“That’s the message we’re being sold,” she said in an interview Friday. “This is part of a national trend – targeted regulation of abortion provider bills – passed in other states across the country designed to shut down abortion clinics and restrict access to safe and legal abortion care. This is part of a larger political agenda.”

Buckley said the organization supports regulations that promote health and safety, but that that’s not the intention of the House or Senate bills.

Jarvis: 919-829-4576
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