RALEIGH – In yet another surprise move coming out of Raleigh, the state House answered a veto threat from Gov. Pat McCrory by altering proposed abortion restrictions passed by the Senate and tacking them on another bill about motorcycle safety. Representative Verla Insko, of Orange County, has been outspoken against abortion restrictions and questioned the motives of Republican lawmakers to push the legislation through.
“No one who believes in a thriving democracy should avoid or be opposed to open and transparent process with a vigorous debate on both sides of the issue. They clearly did not want to expose themselves to transparency,” Insko said.
Last week, the original abortion regulations were unexpectedly attached to House Bill 695, buried under legislation on Sharia law. Those restrictions 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. HB 695 moved through the Senate in less than 24 hours, just before the July Fourth holiday, and with little public notice. The bill then returned to the House for a final vote of concurrence.
After public backlash, however, the bill’s approval was halted Tuesday for a two-hour public hearing held by the House Health and Human Services Committee. It was decided further changes and clarifications were necessary before the bill could move forward. During that hearing, Insko was very outspoken about the potential consequences of preventing women from having safe abortions.
By Wednesday morning, the abortion-related provisions from HB 695 were then transferred to Senate Bill 353— the motorcycle safety bill. The new version of Senate Bill 353 was then passed by a House Judiciary Committee later in the day.
“They want to reach their goals in the dark of the night to the extent that they can. I don’t think North Carolinians will accept the process, much less the outcome,” Insko said.
Insko said the changes made by the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday were “modest,” and restrictive, and the language of the bill was still unclear. She explained that committee members only gave “vague answers” when asked what the changes would imply.
“I expect that it is the only way they could have gotten the Republican caucus in the House to agree to that language because the caucus members were clearly not of one voice on that issue,” Insko said.
As of 11:50 Wednesday morning, the new version of SB 353 was not available to the public, and McCrory announced his intent to veto HB 695 only after work was nearly complete on the alternate version SB 353, according to WRAL.
Insko said Democrats in the General Assembly and abortion-rights activists now have a mounting case against Republicans lawmakers of abusing the democratic process, as there was no notice that the abortion-related provisions would be on the calendar Wednesday, mirroring actions taken in the Senate last week.
“I’m increasingly frustrated, disappointed and agree that they are misusing their power. It really is a power move,” Insko said.
Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos advised state lawmakers Tuesday to update the inspection procedures for abortion clinics because they haven’t been reviewed since 1995. Insko said she supports that proposal because it will help to keep the clinics open and safe. She says the problem is that the state doesn’t provide adequate funds to carry out those inspections.
“We pass laws that create good regulations, but the inspectors are never funded. If you never see someone running a stop sign, you never get a ticket,” Insko said.
Led by Planned Parenthood, protesters have been rallying outside and inside the General Assembly since the Senate passed HB 695 last week.
“I think that the women of North Carolina are energized, and they see that their hard-fought-for civil rights are being removed. I think that you’ll see a continued effort to make sure that those are protected,” Insko said.
The new version of SB 353 will move to the House floor Thursday. If approved, it would then return to the Senate for a final vote of concurrence before going to Governor McCrory.