Federal Court Strikes Down NC Abortion Ultrasound Law

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond has struck down a 2011 North Carolina law that had required abortion providers to describe an ultrasound of a fetus to a patient, regardless of whether the pregnant woman consented to it.

Monday’s decision by a three-judge panel upheld the January ruling by U.S. District Judge Catharine Eagles that the Women’s Right to Know Act, which was passed over a veto by then-Gov. Bev Purdue, violated free speech rights.

“We’re very pleased with the 4th Circuit’s decision to take politics out of exam rooms,” said Suzanne Buckley, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice N.C. “From 2011 when this law was first passed, we feel like this is politicians imposing a political agenda on doctors and women seeking care. It’s wildly inappropriate, and clearly unconstitutional.”

While she’s pleased with the news, Buckley said she’s certain this fight isn’t over yet.

“The anti-choice leadership of the General Assembly is going to make sure that this case goes all the way to the Supreme Court,” said Buckley, “and they’re not going to stop.”

She added that First Amendment cases generally fare well in the U.S. Supreme Court, so she’s confident that today’s 4th Circuit ruling will stand.

In his written opinion, Appeals Court Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III called the ultrasound law “ideological in intent and in kind.”

UPDATE: Noelle Talley, public information officer for the N.C. Dept. of Justice, released the following statement on Monday afternoon:

“The state of North Carolina will petition the US Supreme Court challenging today’s 4th Circuit Court’s decision in Stuart v. Camnitz to resolve a split in decisions by different federal circuit courts of appeal. Monday’s opinion holding North Carolina’s law unconstitutional is now in conflict with Lakey, a case involving a similar Texas law which the 5th Circuit Court upheld.”


“Motorcycle Vagina” Bill One Year Later

Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of the legislature’s greatly unfavorable bill, SB 353, also known as the “Motorcycle Vagina” bill.

The “Motorcycle Vagina” bill was originally presented to the Senate as a bill that would increase methods of motorcycle safety. However, in reality, the majority of SB 353 was actually dedicated to accessibility of abortion, which made it difficult for women to access sanitary and reliable clinics. Additionally, it prohibited insurance plans, even those under the Affordable Care Act, to pay for abortions as well as required the presence of a doctor at all times when a patient is given drugs for inducing abortions.

Abortion rights advocates in North Carolina say they are in the dark about the new rules required by the year-old law that they fear could effectively shut down many of the state’s clinics.

The law will require abortion clinics to meet the same standards as outpatient surgical centers. The state has 15 abortion clinics. The only facility that had met the current standards for surgical centers no longer provides abortions.

Lawmakers and groups like Planned Parenthood are waiting for the state Department of Health and Human Services to draft new rules, but say they’ve heard nothing yet on what they will look like.

The agency would not comment on what the rules would include, but said that it is still working on writing them. The legislature did not set a deadline for when the rules had to be completed.

Despite the disapproval of a vast number of North Carolina citizens, the bill was introduced in the middle of the night, which sparked immense controversy over women’s rights in the previous session.

Speaker of the House and now Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Thom Tillis was one of the politicians that worked to make certain that this bill was passed. He continued to push this bill; despite the 80 percent of voters in North Carolina that believed it was not appropriate to include restrictions on abortion within a bill about motorcycle safety.

Some politicians spoke out claiming that they did not even know that these changes had been made to include legislation about abortion availability, while others voted despite the abortion pieces in order to increase safety for motorcyclists.

There was even a Moral Monday protest, focusing exclusively on women’s rights and leadership, which followed the passing of the infamous bill. It ended up being one of the largest turn-outs the protest event has seen, and ended in hundreds of arrests.

SB 353 proved to be a seriously controversial bill that had some calling into question the morality and acceptability of utilizing one particular proposal to pass legislation regarding something that is wholly unrelated. Opponents said it significantly jeopardized women’s rights and created a highly unfavorable situation for all members of the North Carolina Senate.


One NC Abortion Clinic Closed, Another Reopens

RALEIGH – One North Carolina abortion clinic is now closed for good and another abortion center has re-opened after both were cited for problems that led to the suspension of services at each location this summer.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Service confirmed Monday the physician at The Baker Clinic for Women in Durham voluntarily surrendered his license effective last week. The clinic already had closed its doors in early July after inspectors said the clinic failed to perform quality control testing on patients who received certain blood testing.

The Asheville surgery center FEMCARE opened its doors again late last week after regulators say certain deficiencies are no longer present. HHS said last month inspectors discovered problems there that were a threat to the health and safety of patients.


2011 NC Abortion Law Challenges Before Judge Again

GREENSBORO – A federal judge wants to hear from lawyers in person on the legality of 2011 ultrasound requirements passed by North Carolina legislators before deciding whether they should be tossed out permanently as unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles already put the restrictions on hold nearly two years ago while the litigation took its course. She scheduled oral arguments for Friday in Greensboro on competing motions to strike down or uphold challenged portions of the law.

Abortion providers and abortion-rights groups sued over the ultrasound directives. They demand an abortion provider place an ultrasound image next to a pregnant woman so she can view it, describe image features and offer the woman the chance to listen to the heartbeat.

The Republican-led General Assembly passed more abortion law changes last month.


Comedy Central Slams North Carolina Again

NEW YORK – Our state continues to make the rounds on late night talk shows, with The Daily Show taking a few jeers at the North Carolina General Assembly this week.


John Oliver, the show’s temporary host while Jon Stewart is away for the summer, starts the show talking about voter reform bills across the country before settling on North Carolina and listing the list of changes our voter I.D. bill creates.

“And it doesn’t stop there,” Oliver says. “It also places all voting booths on buoys that are only accessible by yacht.”

Oliver played a clip of state senate majority leader Phil Berger responding to criticism that references only one example of in-person voter fraud has been found in the state.

“You could have gotten the same result by just passing a bill that said, ‘Dave can’t vote; he knows why,’” Oliver says.

From there, Oliver poked fun at more of North Carolina’s recent bills, especially the new abortion regulation bill that was initially added to a House bill banning Sharia law.

“Let me just understand this: you’re adding abortion restrictions to legislation banning the making of laws based upon religious belief?” Oliver says. “That’s like passing a bill banning high fructose corn syrup and adding a provision naming the state animal the gummy bear.”

He also looked at the final abortion bill that passed the Senate, which was added onto another unrelated bill. Although, as Oliver points out, perhaps they were more related than we thought.

“Is it that both of them involve guys in leather jackets your parents didn’t want you to date?” Oliver says.

At the end of his jokes at the General Assembly expense, Oliver had one important message, although it wasn’t for us.

“After a North Carolina legislative session like this, I think the big takeaway might be: your move, South Carolina,” Oliver says.

If you would like to tell John Oliver what you think about his jokes, he will be performing at the DPAC on November 9.


NC Agency Suspends License of Abortion Clinic

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – An Asheville abortion clinic has had its license suspended by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services over what the agency calls violations of existing rules.

A statement issued Wednesday said the violations discovered by inspectors revealed a threat to the health and safety of patients.

DHHS director of health service regulation Drexdal Pratt said inspectors found FEMCARE Inc., failed to comply with 23 separate rules. Among the violations, the agency said FEMCARE failed to maintain anesthesia delivery systems in good working condition, with torn masks and tubing held together with tape.

FEMCARE officials couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

The suspension comes two days after Governor Pat McCrory signed into law legislation that would let DHHS require that abortion clinics meet the standards of an outpatient surgical center.


McCrory Signs NC Abortion Legislation Into Law

RALEIGH, NC – North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has signed into law tougher regulations on abortion clinics that supporters say will enhance safety and opponents contend will force most to close.

McCrory said Monday the law he signed doesn’t limit access to abortion clinics.

The law directs the Republican governor’s Department of Health and Human Services to regulate abortion clinics using the same standards as those for outpatient surgical centers.

Opponents say that would effectively close most of the state’s 16 abortion clinics since only one now meets those standards. A state regulatory official says an ambulatory surgical center costs about $1 million more to build than an abortion clinic and it’s unclear how much it would cost existing clinics to convert to higher standards.


McCrory Says He’ll Sign New Abortion Bill

RALEIGH- Governor Pat McCrory says he will sign into law the controversial abortion bill passed by the House earlier this week. McCrory had previously said he would veto the Senate’s version of the bill, which called for abortion clinics to be regulated as ambulatory surgical centers. It also mandated that a doctor be present for all stages of an abortion procedure.

The House version of the bill is slightly less stringent. It calls for the Department of Health and Human Services to develop new regulations that do not limit access to abortion services. In a statement released on Friday, McCrory called the House version “an improved bill which will better protect women while not further limiting access.”

McCrory has drawn fire in recent weeks as critics say he has abandoned a campaign promise to not support any measure that would restrict abortions.

However, the governor’s approval might not matter much in the long run, as Republicans in the House and Senate have large enough majorities to override any veto.


Chapel Hill Town Council Member Speaks Out Against Abortion Restrictions

RALEIGH – Protesters gathered at the state’s legislature Wednesday morning to demonstrate against a bill passed by the state Senate that tightens the regulations on abortion clinics before the Senate went on break .

House Bill 695 passed by a vote of 29-12 and will return to the House for a final vote after it returns from the July 4 break.

Chapel Hill town council member, Laurin Easthom, says she is disappointed by the bill’s passage and is upset by legislators who say the bill was passed to protect women’s health.

“I think that is just as shifty and as disingenuous as how this bill got passed in the first place,” Easthom says.

***Listen to the Full Interview***

The restrictions were added to a bill intended to outlaw Sharia law in North Carolina. Sharia law refers to laws interpreted or passed down in an Islamic court or imposed under a caliphate. After the amendment was made, the bill was passed in the Senate in less than 24 hours.

The regulations require all abortion clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory emergency clinics, which all but one of the state’s clinics cannot meet. In addition, federal, county and city health coverage plans would no longer cover abortion, except in the case of rape or incest or to save the life of the pregnant woman, and health care providers are given the choice of not providing abortion-related services.

“It’s really got implications for women hugely across the state that no one realizes,” Easthom says. “I can’t believe that this has gotten to the point that it has.”

Easthom believes this bill does not reflect the views of many in the state.

“There’s quite the disconnect between what’s happening in the General Assembly and how voters feel about things,” Easthom says.

Easthom adds that the difference is not only with abortion, but with all of the issues brought up in the recent Moral Mondays protests.

“This was almost like the last straw for me,” Easthom says. “I think this is horrific.”

Governor Pat McCrory spoke out against the Senate’s method of passing the bill, comparing it to how the Democratic Senate passed bills in the previous term.


Kinnaird On Abortion Bill: “Breach In Public Trust”

CHAPEL HILL – Democratic State Senator Ellie Kinnaird of Chapel Hill and Carrboro was one of just 12 North Carolina Senators who cast a ‘no’ vote Wednesday on House Bill 695, which would severely restrict abortion in the state of North Carolina.

***Listen to the Interview***

The bill has sparked intense controversy across the state–not only because of its content, but also for the way it was passed: HB 695 began as a ban on the enforcement of Sharia law, but state senators amended it at the last minute (and largely out of the public eye) to include significant restrictions on abortion.

Read the amended HB 695 here.

“They rammed this bill through the judiciary committee,” Sen. Kinnaird said after HB 695 passed the Senate on Wednesday. “They had not told the general public and they had not told any (abortion rights) advocates, so this was really a breach in public trust.” (Sen. Kinnaird says even she was not informed about the changes to the bill until 7:00 on Tuesday evening; the final vote was cast on Wednesday morning.)

Despite the short time frame, hundreds of North Carolinians turned out at the General Assembly Wednesday morning to demonstrate, both against the bill itself and against the way it was passed.

“I stirred them up a little bit,” says Kinnaird (who’d spoken passionately against the bill on Tuesday night). “When I first walked in and saw them, I clapped to them–and of course they just burst out in clapping.” Lt. Governor Dan Forest repeatedly silenced the crowd–one protestor was even removed from the building–but Kinnaird says “even their silent presence was very powerful.”

As amended, HB 695 includes a variety of provisions. Perhaps most notably, it 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; all others would effectively have to close–and Kinnaird says the standards governing ambulatory centers are irrelevant when it comes to clinics that provide abortions.

“(The standards govern) the linoleum on the floor and the paint on the walls,” she says, “as well as equipment–(requiring) things that would be there in an ambulatory (center) that just aren’t necessary in an abortion clinic.”

Moreover, Kinnaird says, those ‘abortion clinics’ don’t only provide abortions. “Women, low-income women, use this as their primary health care,” she says. “They get family planning materials there, they also get cancer screening–if we close these down, these folks without insurance, low-income people, are going to really suffer (in terms of) general health care.”

Another provision of the bill would prevent city and county health plans from covering abortions as well, unless it is to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest.

As always with abortion debates, Kinnaird says the discussion of HB 695 got very heated: “At the end,” she says, “one of the backers of the bill told one of our Democrats that she was going to hell and he was praying for her.” But in this case, passions flared not only because of the content of the bill, but because of the process by which it was pushed through–an issue with a long history of its own.

“At one point (in the debate), the Rules chair stood up and said, ‘Well, you Democrats did it (like this) a long time,'” Kinnaird says. Republican Governor Pat McCrory made a similar comment in a statement denouncing the procedure: “It was not right then,” he said Wednesday, “and it is not right now.” (Kinnaird too doesn’t deny that Democrats could have been more transparent when they were the majority party–but adds, “Just because somebody (else) did it doesn’t make it right.”)

House Bill 695 passed the Senate by a vote of 29-12. The amended bill still needs to be approved by the State House, but its passage seems all but certain: Governor McCrory pledged during last year’s campaign not to sign any bill that imposes further restrictions on abortion, but Republicans have a veto-proof majority in both houses even if McCrory follows through on that pledge. Indeed, notwithstanding the procedural controversy, Kinnaird concedes that the bill would likely have passed the Senate in its current form even if GOP leaders had allowed ample time for public debate.

Even if it passes the legislature, though, Kinnaird says the story will be far from over. “The Attorney General said this bill is likely to generate a lot of Constitutional issues in the courts,” she says, “so even if it passes, it’ll be in the courts for a long time.”

And while Democrats have little power to shape the discourse in Raleigh now, Kinnaird says she’s confident that this debate will contribute to an anti-GOP backlash in 2014.

“People are finally beginning to realize (that) this is an extreme group, and we know that the people of North Carolina do not want extremism,” she says. “They don’t want to be on the Jon Stewart show (or) Rachel Maddow as laughingstocks of the country…

“We used to be a beacon of light (and) a beacon of enlightenment in the South, and we are no longer that–and I know that the people of North Carolina believe that we should be that beacon of light, that beacon of enlightenment. And they’re going to, I think, really react at the polls.”