A roller-coaster reproductive rights battle in North Carolina has taken another turn. SB 353, a piece of legislation originally written as a motorcycle safety bill that was amended to include multiple anti-abortion restrictions, has been sent to the state senate’s rules committee for review. The bill, which passed the house late last week, was rewritten in such a way as to allow the legislature to move immediately for a concurrent vote in the senate, giving it an accelerated path to Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk. The governor has already said he would sign SB 353 into law, despite a campaign pledge to refuse to sign any bills anti-choice legislation.
SB 353 will remain in the senate rules committee while members “review its updated language,” committee chairman Tom Apodaca (R-Henderson) told the Associated Press. The senate had debated and passed a similar bill, HB 695, two weeks earlier. HB 695, a bill ostensibly designed to combat Sharia law in the state, was also amended without public knowledge to add almost identical anti-choice restrictions; it passed the senate but did not get a concurring vote in the house after Gov. McCrory threatened a veto.
The differences between the house and senate vehicles for the restrictions (besides each chamber’s choice of unrelated legislative topics on which to attach them) are predominantly semantic in nature. Both bills would ban telemedicine abortions by requiring a doctor’s presence when RU-486 is provided, although the senate bill does not clarify if the patient must return for the second medication or not, while the house bill says the patient specifically does not need to return for a second dose. Both forbid insurance plans offered in the state insurance exchange from offering coverage for abortions and both ban sex-selective abortions, which are not known to occur in the state. The senate version would have required abortion clinics to be licensed as ambulatory surgical centers, while the house version says that the state health department will decide which parts of that licensing procedure must be undertaken by clinics, but should avoid “unduly restricting access.”
The tweaks may have made the difference between Gov. McCrory’s promise of a signature and his threat of a veto, but at the same time appear to have been enough to make the senate pause and reconsider the legislation altogether. Also potentially slowing down the legislation may be second thoughts based on public feedback. According to new polling by Public Policy Polling, only 37 percent of North Carolina voters support the new regulations. Voters oppose the way the bill was introduced by an even greater margin, with 80 percent of those polled saying they disapprove of the restrictions being attached to a motorcycle safety bill.
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The news of committee review followed a Moral Monday protest that focused on women’s rights and leadership. The gathering was said to be the largest demonstration yet, and resulted in over 100 arrests for civil disobedience. According to eye witnesses, the arrestees filled two buses as they were carted away from the capitol.
The Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and one of the leading organizers behind the Moral Monday movement, spoke out in support of the women of the state, and urged the audience to continue to stand together. “When we started Moral Mondays and the first group went to jail, the women were at the front line,” he said, according to WRAL.com. “The sisters are here, the sisters have been here and the sisters are here to stay.”
“When they mess with my sisters, they mess with me,” said Rev. Barber.