Politics & Government

Bill to extend abortion waiting period heads to NC House floor

Second term NC Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer, R-Mecklenburg, listens to colleagues' during a bill discussion in the House Judiciary IV committee meeting at NC Legislature Wednesday, April 15, 2015.
Second term NC Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer, R-Mecklenburg, listens to colleagues' during a bill discussion in the House Judiciary IV committee meeting at NC Legislature Wednesday, April 15, 2015. hlynch@newsobserver.com

Despite critics who called it patronizing and even “dangerous,” a bill that would extend the waiting period for abortions passed a House committee Wednesday.

The Health Committee approved House Bill 465 by a party line vote, with Republicans in favor and Democrats against. It could be voted on by the House as early as Thursday.

“This bill is and has always been about protecting women’s health,” said Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer, a Charlotte Republican and bill sponsor. “This is empowering to people. This enables women to make informed decisions.”

The bill would extend the waiting period for an abortion to 72 hours instead of the current 24. The state enacted the 24-hour waiting period in 2011.

Under pressure from the McCrory administration and the state university system, Schaffer and other sponsors had removed a controversial provision that would have barred medical schools at UNC-Chapel Hill or East Carolina University from offering abortions.

Schaffer said the bill also would result in fewer abortions by tightening reporting requirements for doctors, particularly for abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. Sponsors believe that hundreds of such abortions, now generally prohibited in North Carolina, go unreported.

In the committee, sponsors stressed that the bill would not restrict access to abortion.

“We are here to protect life (but) also here to protect a woman’s right to choose,” said GOP Rep. Pat McElraft of Emerald Isle.

But Rep. Verla Insko, a Chapel Hill Democrat, called the bill “paternalistic.”

“We are removing a woman’s right to have control over her body,” she said. “Government doesn’t have any right to get involved in that.”

North Carolina would join Missouri, South Dakota and Utah in requiring a 72-hour waiting period, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy center that supports abortion rights. Overall, 26 states require a waiting period, usually 24 hours.

Lawmakers heard from 11 women, 10 of whom supported the bill.

One was Dr. Melinda Snyder, who said many women feel coerced into having an abortion.

“I’ve never known an (abortion) that couldn’t wait for a few hours,” she said. “It’s an irrevocable decision.”

Elena Smith told lawmakers she was at a clinic, prepared for an abortion, when she decided to wait and have an ultrasound.

“If I had not waited … my son Christian would not be here today,” she said. “And neither would his two beautiful sisters.”

But Dr. Dalia Brahmi, a family physician in Chapel Hill, called the bill “dangerous.” She said delaying access could result in harm to a woman’s health.

And speaking to reporters later, Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Melissa Reed called the hearing “a total sham.”

“It is already shameful that legislators are putting their own political ideologies over women’s health with this bill, but to then silence the voices of those who seek to remove politics from health care is truly deplorable,” she said.

“To say that a woman hasn’t thought these things through … quite frankly is patronizing and demeaning to women.”

Under the original version of the bill, neither of the two state medical schools could allow an employee to perform or supervise an abortion. And no state facility could be used for an abortion unless the life of the mother was at stake or the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest.

Schaffer said those provisions were removed after objections by the McCrory administration and UNC, which said those changes could affect the school’s accreditation.

“We’re committed to (doing something about) those issues, but not in this legislation,” Schaffer said later.

The 2011 law that enacted the 24-hour waiting period also required abortion providers to show and describe ultrasounds to women terminating their pregnancies.

A federal appeals court in December ruled the ultrasound provision unconstitutional.

Morrill: 704-358-5059

Related stories from Charlotte Observer