RALEIGH – Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos advised state lawmakers Tuesday to clarify the sum of the provisions proposed in House Bill 695 to restrict abortion access. The bill moved through Senate in less than 24 hours last week, and only a needed a concurrence vote by the full House to pass. After backlash from abortion-rights activists, the House and Human Services Committee held a public hearing to discuss the bill further.
There was a clear division in the room where the hearing was held. Pro-choice supporters wore pink and anti-abortion advocates wore blue.
Outside of the State Legislative Building, protesters, including Carol Brooke of Carrboro, gathered for a rally led by Planned Parenthood against abortion restrictions.
“I would hope that Governor McCrory will remember how many women in this state helped to elect him and how many women he is representing, and that he will do the right thing and veto this bill,” Brooke said.
House Bill 695 would require abortion providers to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgery centers, a move abortion-rights advocates say is designed to shut down providers. Only one clinic in the entire state currently meets those standards.
Governor Pat McCrory, who said last fall that he would not support further abortion restrictions, criticized the way in which House Bill 695 moved rapidly through the Senate with little public notice, buried in legislation against Sharia Law. Even if McCrory follows through on his pledge, Republicans have a veto-proof majority in both houses making the bill almost certain to pass.
Secretary Wos said that regulations and inspection procedures for abortion clinics need to be updated, saying that they haven’t been reviewed since 1995.
Micah Allen sat in the public hearing and said he is pro-life under all circumstances.
“In terms of consistency across the board with dangerous medical procedures this has to happen. It is inconsistent to argue against it and say that other procedures of a similar nature have to have a sterile environment, and a surgeon present; it really makes no sense. Logically, this bill makes a lot of sense,” Allen said.
Allen agrees with points the DHHS made, saying that certain provisions of the bill needed to be clarified to ensure the safety standards. Two abortion clinics were shut down this year in Durham and Charlotte for unsafe practices.
“I think a lot of the speakers in favor of the bill touched on the issue that has tended to be an emotional thing. Abortion has been put on a pedestal, and currently the laws have put it in another category than surgical centers. That’s unfortunate because it’s much less safe than people have presented it as,” Allen said.
Gabrielle Johnson, a UNC law student, attended Tuesday’s rally and is pro-choice. Johnson also attended last Wednesday’s impromptu demonstration of more than 600, organized in response to the bill itself as well as the way it was passed in the Senate.
“Even if it does pass, I hope that these same women who are getting rallied up at this moment for this anti-women’s rights bill will remember this during election time and will get equally excited and equally energized to remind them [the General Assembly] that if you go against us once, you’ll have to pay for it with your election and your seat,” Johnson said.
Representative Verla Insko of Orange County was outspoken during the hearing, arguing that abortion clinics protect women’s health by providing safe ways to have the procedure done. Representative Beverly Earle of Mecklenburg County said that if all but one clinic were to close, women would be forced to have abortions in the “back-room type of places.”