RALEIGH — The state House passed sweeping new abortion legislation Thursday after an emotional and partisan debate.
The House voted 74-41 to have state regulators review and strengthen regulations at abortion clinics. The vote followed three hours of debate, as people on both sides looked on from the House gallery.
Republicans said abortion clinics need stricter regulations in the wake of horrific discoveries at a Philadelphia clinic earlier this year.
Democrats called the bill an obvious push to shut down abortion clinics by requiring cost-prohibitive standards on par with those of surgery centers.
Abortion-rights groups have said the effort could close all but one abortion provider in the state, since only one meets the state’s current standards for ambulatory surgery centers.
“The bill is a decoy,” said state Rep. Alma Adams, D-Guilford. “(Clinics) will be put out of business. I truly believe that this bill is about limiting choices for women.”
Thursday’s vote came after a week-and-a-half of legislative wrangling and a rare threat of a veto from Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. He found himself at odds with social conservatives in the legislature’s GOP majority, but the House may have bridged that gap by tweaking the bill after conversations with administration officials.
The bill that emerged is a mishmash of new safety standards, health insurance restrictions — even a section on motorcycle safety. It moves to the Senate, which passed a similar abortion bill last week.
There’s no guarantee the Senate will agree to the House’s version. And McCrory, who promised not to sign new abortion restrictions during his campaign, hasn’t spoken publicly on the bill since threatening the Senate’s version Wednesday morning.
North Carolina hasn’t updated clinic regulations since 1995. State Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos of Greensboro testified this week that it’s “unrealistic” to leave them unchanged. Wos told legislators that inspections are done every three to five years because of staffing issues.
During Thursday’s debate, both sides noted the state shut down two clinics, at least temporarily, earlier this year. Depending on who was talking, the shutdowns showed that current regulations work or that more stringent rules are needed.
Republican women in the House pushed hard against the notion that GOP leaders were using the bill to restrict abortions.
“This is not about shutting down centers,” said state Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg and one of the bill’s chief proponents. “Women will still have the right to choose. But as a result of this bill they will have the right to make that choice in a safe facility.”
Some Democrats said they were willing to have a bipartisan conversation about new rules, but they felt Republicans were rushing the issue through in the legislative session’s waning weeks.
Adams was one of several minority members to call out GOP members for failing to prove that North Carolina’s abortion clinics are unsafe.
She said the bill would make abortion clinics so rare as to push women into “the dark alleyways” of black market abortions.
“What a terrible day for North Carolina women,” Adams said. “Shame on us.
“Coat hangers. Do we want that blood on our hands? I do not.”