Divisive social issues never really go away, and this legislative session is expected to revisit at least two of the big ones: abortion and gay marriage.
Under a law the General Assembly enacted in 2013, regulations governing abortion clinics had to be updated. The state health agency just completed that rewrite, but it is certain to land back in the legislature this session to resolve differences.
Abortion-rights activists are, by and large, happy with the rewrite because it didn’t go as far as some legislators wanted. The proposed regulations don’t require clinics to meet the same standards as same-day surgery centers, which could have forced some of them to close.
Anti-abortion forces, however, don’t think the proposed rules are stringent enough, and they will register sufficient objection (just 10 letters are needed) to force the dispute back to the legislature.
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That not only sets up a replay of the 2013 debate over abortion, but it also sets up a standoff between conservatives in the General Assembly and a Republican governor who vowed not to further restrict women’s access to abortion. Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration has now written rules that keep that campaign promise intact but probably won’t satisfy some lawmakers.
Gay rights will likely return as an issue because Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said he would propose a bill allowing magistrates and registrars of deeds to refuse on religious grounds to participate in weddings of same-sex couples.
A number of magistrates quit when same-sex marriage became legal in North Carolina in October, after federal court rulings struck down the state’s constitutional ban enacted by voters in 2012. The state courts administrator warned magistrates that they have an obligation to perform their duties and that there is a distinction between the religious institution of marriage and the civil ceremony that makes it legal.
Staff writer Craig Jarvis