An abortion test for North Carolina

The Observer editorial board

The Food and Drug Administration has changed guidelines on abortion drugs.
The Food and Drug Administration has changed guidelines on abortion drugs. The New York Times

Time and time again, as Republicans have looked for ways to make abortions harder to get in North Carolina, they’ve offered the same smirk-inducing rationale for doing so:

It’s for the protection of women.

It’s an all-purpose justification, used by both lawmakers drawing up legislation and Gov. Pat McCrory as a deflection for breaking campaign promises not to restrict abortion.

But now, the Food and Drug Administration has provided a new test of that safety claim. We’re not optimistic that N.C. Republicans will pass.

Last week, the FDA announced that it is relaxing guidelines surrounding the use of mifepristone, the medication that induces abortion. The agency now calls for a lower dosage of the drug, and it says a second drug that’s used to complete the abortion process can be taken a day or two later at home instead of at a doctor’s office.

Doctors have been administering that lower dosage of mifepristone for years because it’s safe, efficient and has fewer side effects than the earlier recommended dosage. In fact, the old guidelines were considered bad medicine by many doctors. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists hailed the changes last week. We agree.

The new guidelines also recommend that qualified health-care providers – and not just licensed physicians – be allowed to dispense the abortion medication. That allows for women, particularly those in rural areas, to have more convenient access to the procedure.

That’s where North Carolina comes in. Our state, along with 36 others, requires that a licensed physician provide abortion medication. North Carolina goes even further, requiring that a physician be present when the drugs are taken.

The FDA now says neither is necessary to ensure a woman’s safety. So North Carolina will surely adjust its law to reflect the medical consensus, right?

No, we don’t expect the Republican-led legislature to do that, either. But we hope a Democratic lawmaker introduces a bill that calls for North Carolina to follow FDA guidelines and allow better access to safe abortions. When that bill goes nowhere, it will be even clearer that Republicans haven’t been that interested in protecting women. What they’ve wanted was to make it harder to obtain a legal procedure.

Those efforts have been burdensome and in some cases unsafe for women, and they’ve also been costly in other ways. In 2011, after Republicans passed a law that included a provision requiring that women seeking abortions be shown narrated ultrasound images before the procedure, the state was sued by abortion providers. The provision was struck down by a federal judge, then lost on appeal, then was snubbed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

That hat trick of legal defeats came with a price for taxpayers: $1 million, which may come out of an emergency fund that is supposed to be used for natural disasters.

Instead, North Carolina will be paying for more bad legislation, all in the name of women who could use less of the “protection” Republicans are providing.