I woke up to a panicked text message from a friend yesterday morning.
“OMG, what is going on with the General Assembly? I heard last night they are closing all the Planned Parenthoods. That can’t be true, right? Right?”
I was a little surprised by the message since, a) my Facebook feed has been nothing but chatter about the General Assembly for the past week and b) this friend—a UNC Masters of Public health Student– tends to be pretty plugged in to the various comings and goings of the legislature, specifically in matters of reproductive health.
I put aside my shock that she wasn’t hanging on my every Facebook word (what do you mean she didn’t “Like” the picture of my children protesting at a State Senate hearing?), and did my best to explain House Bill 695 to her.
I told her that last Monday the North Carolina Senate met and, while discussing a bill prohibiting Sharia law in our state, unexpectedly added a handful of restrictions on abortion providers to that bill. Opponents to those provisions were caught unaware, and were unable to spend the time in committee meetings hashing out the details of the proposed changes.
The next day the senate met again to finalize that bill. Hundreds of opponents showed up in Raleigh to protest, outraged both by the restrictions and by the manner in which they were added. The Senate approved the bill—including the changes—and sent it to the House of Representatives, who will discuss it this week.
“So it’s only about abortion?” my friend asked, after enduring what was probably a longer answer than she was looking for.
The answer to that is yes, and no. The language of the bill is strictly about abortion providers and procedures, but the reality is that the clinics that provide abortions also provide STD checks, birth control, well woman care, cancer screenings, and more. Any law that makes it more difficult for these places to do business makes it more difficult for women to get the health care they need.
To get more details, I called Melissa Reed, VP of Public Policy at Planned Parenthood Health Systems in Raleigh.
“What this means is it will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per clinic to meet those standards, and that may be cost prohibitive for many providers,” she said. “In other states where laws like these have passed, clinics have closed down.”
The new language would require abortion providers to adhere to the same building and practice standards as surgical ambulatory care centers, an idea Reed says is completely unnecessary. Abortions are among the safest procedures, and are far less risky than oral surgery, colonoscopies, and plastic surgery—all of which occur outside of ambulatory care centers.
Alice Mark, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the international public health organization Ipas, cites a groundbreaking study by the World Health Association: “The death rate for having a baby is more than 10 times the death rate from having a legal induced abortion.” Singling out abortion procedures as in need of more regulation doesn’t actually protect women, as lawmakers have promised. By making it more difficult for women’s health clinics to stay open, this bill actually threatens the health of every woman who relies on a clinic for their yearly pap screen or for low-cost birth control.
Right now in North Carolina there are a few dozen clinics that list abortion among their services. Only one, in Asheville, would actually meet the proposed standards. In addition to potentially shutting the doors of 34 health centers, the proposed bill also puts limitations on medication abortions, expands the conscience clause to anyone working in a healthcare setting, and restricts insurance coverage for elective abortion.
“So is this for real? Is it really happening?” my friend asked, after recovering from another of my 30-minute explanations.
Unfortunately, it could be. This Tuesday the House of Representatives Health and Human Services Committee will discuss the modified bill. They could send it to the full House for a vote as early as Tuesday afternoon, with a final vote possibly occurring Wednesday.
If this bill passes in the House—and most experts believe it will—it will then be passed on to Governor McCrory’s office. He’ll have the choice to sign it, veto it, or do nothing. During his campaign, McCrory pledged not to sign any additional restrictions on abortion, but his signature is not required for this bill’s passage. Even if he exercises his power to veto, he can be overridden by the supermajority of legislators who passed this bill in the first place. McCrory has publicly criticized the methods Senate Conservatives used to pass these measures, but he has stopped short of speaking about the bill itself.
This week, men and women from all over the state are converging at the capitol for a Moral Monday focused what the current legislature has cost North Carolinians. My friend has said she’ll be there, and so will I. I’ll be the lady in the pink shirt spreading the word about the need for affordable women’s health to whoever will listen.