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North Carolina House Committee Meets on ‘Sharia Law’ Abortion Bill as Protest Against Bill Grows

Robin Marty

While the committee debated the legislation, pro-choice activists met outside the capitol to protest government interference in personal decisions, building on the previous day's Moral Monday protest, at which dozens of protesters were arrested.

The North Carolina house Health and Human Services Committee met Tuesday to discuss HB 695, a bill ostensibly designed to combat Sharia law in the state that was amended during a surprise hearing last week to add numerous abortion restrictions. While the committee argued about whether the house should concur with the senate version of the legislation, pro-choice activists met outside the capitol to protest government interference in personal decisions, building on the previous day’s Moral Monday protest, at which dozens of protesters were arrested.

HB 695 would severely restrict access to safe abortion care in the state by potentially closing all but one state abortion clinic, requiring admitting privileges for doctors who perform abortions, requiring physicians to only provide medication abortions in the presence of a patient, restricting insurance coverage for abortion services, and banning sex-selective abortions, which are not known to actually occur in the state.

Testimony against the legislation came not only from medical professionals and local reproductive rights groups, but also from a state agency. Aldona Wos, the state’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, specifically urged lawmakers to slow down and clarify the bill before passing a final version. (HB 695 passed the house earlier this session, prior to the anti-choice amendments being added, and the house only needs to concur with the senate version of the bill before it can be sent to the governor for signature.)

A Department of Health and Human Services representative testified first on Tuesday, noting that the department needs clarification about enforcing the new standards. “We are not able to directly regulate physicians,” he testified, also expressing the department’s “technical” concerns for overseeing clinic and doctor regulations.

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While politicians and advocates inside the capitol debated HB 695, outside the movement against the bill continued to grow. Gathered on Halifax Mall, pro-choice state politicians spoke out against the restrictions. They were joined by Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “North Carolina is not alone. In too many states, politicians are carrying the water for a radical minority who think they know how to live our lives better than we do,” said Hogue. “And these folks believe the ends justify the means. They don’t care if women get hurt, if children are lied to, and they certainly don’t care if politicians skirt due process, the laws of our land, to get their way.”

Suzanne Buckley, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, also spoke at the rally. “House Bill 695 is out of touch with the more than three-quarters of North Carolinians who believe lawmakers have no place in a woman’s personal, private reproductive health care decisions,” she said. “The vast majority of North Carolinians want the legislature to focus on jobs, the economy, education, and access to health care, not stripping away women’s reproductive choices, decimating civil rights, and attacking the poor.”

Tuesday’s rally came less than 24 hours after a Moral Monday protest that focused largely on the bill. The Monday event drew roughly 2,000 participants, which Reuters called one of the biggest crowds since the NAACP began organizing the events this spring. Sixty-four protesters were arrested Monday, including Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina President and CEO Janet Colm, reports.

Colm wrote in a piece published on the Huffington Post:

It’s not just that our legislature is turning its back on the history and people of our state. It’s not just that they are playing with women’s lives, although that’s good enough reason to take a stand. I want these politicians to see that with every attack, they are creating a fierce and ever stronger opposition. We’re making it impossible for politicians to ignore us, no matter how hard they try.

Because of Tuesday’s hearing, the bill was not brought up for a vote on concurrence. The house will next have the opportunity to vote on the bill on Wednesday.

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who publicly expressed concern over the way the anti-choice bill was forced through the senate without following the traditional legislative process, vowed during his gubernatorial campaign that he would not sign any abortion restrictions into law. However, he has not specifically committed to vetoing HB 695, telling reporters at a press conference that the issue is “complex.” “I think parts of the bill, personally, clearly deal with safety and help protect these women,” he said. “But I also see there are parts of the bill that could clearly cross that line where they are adding further restrictions to access, and I think that’s where we need further discussion and further debate.”

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