News Abortion

North Carolina ‘Motorcycle’ Abortion Bill Passes House, Will Protect Women From ‘Vaginal Organisms,’ Says Supporter

Robin Marty

During the debate on the motorcycle safety act Thursday, the subject of motorcycles only entered the debate once. "I own a motorcycle," said state Rep. Beverly Earle. "I want to let my motorcycle buddies know when I vote against this, it has nothing to do with them."

UPDATE, July 12, 2:10 p.m.: Gov. McCrory has confirmed to a local television station that he would not veto SB 353, the house version of the abortion restrictions.

The North Carolina house voted 74-41 Thursday to pass SB 353, a bill originally written as a piece of motorcycle safety legislation that was amended Wednesday, to the surprise of some state lawmakers, to include numerous abortion restrictions. Supporters of the bill spoke Thursday of how the legislation could protect women from “vaginal organisms” at unclean facilities, among other things, while there was virtually no mention of motorcycles during the debate.

The amendments, a version of which were previously included in a bill designed to ban Sharia law in the state before the governor threatened a veto, include regulations that could restrict access to safe abortion, limit medication abortions, ban sex-selective abortions, and prevent pregnant people from using insurance to pay for abortion care.

Thursday’s three-hour house debate was overall more subdued than recent debates in states like Ohio and Texas; Republican Speaker Thom Tillis said that any noise or distraction would result in the gallery being emptied.

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Some Democratic lawmakers noted during the debate that the majority of the state’s legislative session has revolved around deregulation, and this is the first bill that proposes an increase in government oversight. “The North Carolina government wants to deregulate everything except women’s bodies,” said Rep. Sam Joe Queen (D-Haywood), who complained that although he was on the state judiciary committee, which was considering the motorcycle safety bill on Wednesday, he received no warning prior to the hearing that abortion amendments had been added to it.

Although the seemingly sneaky method of getting the bill to the chamber was brought up many times by politicians opposing SB 353—Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Fayetteville) called it a “rewrite by moonlight” in his testimony—it was the effect that potential clinic closures could have on the poor that received the most attention. A number of attempts to draw a connection between the impact of SB 353 and lawmakers’ previous refusal to expand Medicaid, maintain family planning funds, or support teaching age-appropriate comprehensive sex education in schools were ruled off-topic by Tillis.

Citing a laundry list of bacteria that could potentially harm women, from staph to herpes, state Rep. Pat McElraft (R-Carteret) defended the clinic regulations by arguing that clinics that aren’t properly inspected to ensure they are sterile could expose women to “vaginal organisms” that could cause illness or death:

State Rep. Michele Presnell (R-Burnsville) expressed impatience with how much time was being devoted to debating the bill; it was the first time the version of the legislation containing anti-abortion amendments had been discussed among the full house. “I’m just tired of listening to this whole thing,” Rep. Presnell testified, after saying she would never enter an abortion clinic. “Personally, I prefer that [the pregnant patient] plan ahead. There are a lot of birth procedures that you can take care of in the way of birth control.” Presnell said she hopes any woman seeking an abortion “ask[s] the Lord” if that’s what she should do.

State Rep. Pat Hurley (R-Randolph) asked if there are hospitals that offer abortions in case clinics close because of the bill. “Don’t we have hospitals?” she asked, according to the Carolina Mercury Twitter account, adding, “If they don’t plan ahead, they can go to hospitals can’t they?” Reproductive rights supporters pointed out in the wake of Hurley’s comments that many hospitals do not perform abortions, and abortion procedures tend to be more expensive at hospitals than at clinics.

During the debate on the motorcycle safety act, the subject of motorcycles only entered the debate once Thursday. “I own a motorcycle,” said state Rep. Beverly Earle (D-Mecklenberg). “I want to let my motorcycle buddies know when I vote against this, it has nothing to do with them.”

“We are appalled but not surprised that the House has passed SB 353 in a largely party-line vote,” Suzanne Buckley, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, said in a statement. “This bill is the most egregious attack on women’s reproductive rights and safety that we’ve seen in over 40 years. This bill will severely limit women’s access to safe and legal abortion care to the detriment of North Carolina women. The sponsors of SB 353 have shown an utter disregard for women’s health and safety, continuously putting anti-choice political ideology over fair process and democracy.”

The afternoon vote ended with Tillis praising the gallery for remaining silent throughout the entire debate. During that speech, an audience member shouted out at the legislature, and half of the gallery was cleared.

The bill now heads back to the senate for a vote. Should the senate concur, the bill would then go to Republican Gov. Pat McCrory for signature. McCrory said Tuesday that he would veto the Sharia law bill that contained similar amendments, but he supports SB 353. McCrory promised during his 2012 gubernatorial campaign that he would veto any law that restricts abortion.

News Law and Policy

Court Blocks North Carolina’s ‘Discriminatory’ Voter ID Law

Imani Gandy

“[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision," Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court, describing the North Carolina GOP's voter ID law.

A unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina’s elections law, holding that the Republican-held legislature had enacted the law with discriminatory intent to burden Black voters and that it therefore violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The ruling marks the latest defeat of voter ID laws passed by GOP-majority legislatures across the country.

“We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent,” Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the court.

HB 589 required in-person voters to show certain types of photo ID beginning in 2016, and either curtailed or reduced registration and voting access tools that Black voters disproportionately used, including an early voting period. Black voters also disproportionately lack photo IDs.

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Republicans claimed that the law was intended to protect against voter fraud, which has proven exceedingly rare in Republican-led investigations. But voting rights advocates argue that the law was intended to disenfranchise Black and Latino voters.

The ruling marks a dramatic reversal of fortune for the U.S. Justice Department, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters, which had asked the Fourth Circuit to review a lower court ruling against them.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder in April ruled that plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that the law hindered Black voters’ ability to exercise political power.

The Fourth Circuit disagreed.

“In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees,” Motz wrote. “This failure of perspective led the court to ignore critical facts bearing on legislative intent, including the inextricable link between race and politics in North Carolina.”

The Fourth Circuit noted that the Republican-dominated legislature passed the law in 2013, immediately following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby v. Holder, which struck a key provision in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.

Section 4 is the coverage formula used to determine which states must get pre-clearance from the Department of Justice or the District Court for the District of Columbia before making any changes to election laws.

The day after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Shelby, the Republican chairman of the Senate Rules Committee announced the North Carolina legislature’s intention to enact an “omnibus” election law, the appeals court noted. Before enacting the law, however, the Republican-dominated legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices.

After receipt of the race data, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration, all of which disproportionately burdened Black voters.

“In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its actions, the State offered only meager justifications,” Motz continued. “[T]he new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The ruling comes a day after the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and one of the primary organizers of Moral Mondays, gave a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention that brought convention goers to their feet.

During a protest on the first day of the trial, Barber told a crowd of about 3,500 people, “this is our Selma.”

News Law and Policy

Anti-Immigrant Bill Advances in North Carolina

Tina Vasquez

The bill may become law by the end of the legislative session Saturday, American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Acting Executive Director Sarah Preston told Rewire.

North Carolina’s HB 100, a bill that targets undocumented communities and aims to penalize cities not complying with local immigration laws, was sent to the house rules committee this week after passing the senate.

The bill could become law by the end of the legislative session Saturday, American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Acting Executive Director Sarah Preston told Rewire.

HB 100 expands on HB 318, the Protect North Carolina Workers Act, signed into law last year, which requires employers doing business with a “public entity” to use the federal E-Verify system to authenticate the citizenship status of job applicants, and bars government agencies and local law enforcement from verifying a person’s identity or residence using consular or embassy documents.

HB 100 will prohibit an exception in HB 318 that allows law enforcement to accept identification provided through local programs such as the FaithAction ID Initiative, which provides identification for any resident in the community “who may not have access to government issued forms of ID.”

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As ThinkProgress reported, these local ID programs were created “in partnership with law enforcement officials precisely because police wanted to make cities safer … FaithAction International House realized that undocumented immigrants were afraid to call the police when crimes occurred, fearing officers would arrest them instead because they lacked identification.”

Another bill introduced in May, SB 868, aims to prohibit law enforcement officials from being able to accept these IDs and under HB 100, these programs, popular in larger cities like Greensboro, would be illegal.

“Removing the ability to use these community IDs makes undocumented immigrants more likely to be targets of crime, because it makes them fearful to come forward and interact with law enforcement,” said Preston. “People who want to take advantage of the community know this community has very little recourse.”

What’s “incredibly troubling,” Preston said, is the reporting piece of the bill. The law allows anonymous tipsters to call the attorney general’s office and make complaints against their city, town, or local law enforcement alleging it is not following local immigration laws. As CityLab reported, a second reporting measure allows any person to “file a lawsuit asking a court to decide whether a city or county is non-compliant with state law.”

If the attorney general confirms a report that a city is not complying with the state’s anti-immigrant policies, whether these violations are intentional or inadvertent, the city’s transportation and education funding will be withdrawn for the year.

“These complaints would be anonymous and confidential and could take shape in many different ways, like someone at the county clerk’s office helping an undocumented person access records or seeing an undocumented person in court that a North Carolina resident doesn’t think is being treated as badly as they should be,” Preston said.

The attorney general would investigate “no matter how frivolous or incomplete it may be,” Preston told Rewire.

HB 100 comes on the heels of the Supreme Court’s split ruling on Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), which would have provided an estimated 3.6 million undocumented parents of U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident children with a renewable work permit and exemption from deportation for two years. At a time when advocates are calling on cities to provide more local protections for undocumented immigrants in light of the ruling, Preston said this measure represents the “unnecessary targeting” of a community that has already been under attackboth nationally and in North Carolina—for years.

A recent series of immigration raids hit North Carolina’s undocumented communities, which comprise 7.6 percent of the population, hard. The state doesn’t have any sanctuary cities, which are regions that do not work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for the detainment and deportation of undocumented community members.

HB 100 would actually make sanctuary cities illegal, explained Preston. And the inability by undocumented community members to access any form of identification would erode any relationship local law enforcement has been able to build with this community.

“I can’t answer why the state is going after such a vulnerable population,” Preston said. “I think it’s wrong and misguided, but I don’t have an answer. I wish I knew.”