BY LISA LEVENSTEIN I wrote this piece for the Greensboro News and Record after witnessing the debate over the abortion bill in the House Health and Human Services committee meeting on Tuesday morning. While I did not agree with Barbara Holt’s position, I felt it was important to note that her remarks at least acknowledged that the bill was a “pro-life” measure, something the Republicans in the House refused to admit.
Public Deserves to be Heard on Abortion Bill
Posted: Friday, July 12, 2013 12:00 am
Proposed new regulations on abortion providers have nothing to do with protecting women’s health. Nothing demonstrates this quite like the tactics Republican leaders have used to try to ram the legislation through the N.C. General Assembly.
At first, draconian abortion restrictions were placed into an anti-Sharia law bill. After public scrutiny began to gather momentum, the new regulations were put into — of all things — a motorcycle safety bill. If advocates are so convinced these new measures are justified, why all the secrecy? Why all the back-room tactics? Why the rush?
“We’re not taking away the rights of women,” insisted Sen. Warren Daniel, one of the primary supporters of the bill. “We’re protecting the health and safety of women across the state.”
Yet the discussion of the bill in the House Health and Human Services Committee meeting on Tuesday morning made it abundantly clear that the true intent of the legislation had little to do with protecting women’s health and everything to do with severely restricting women’s access to abortion.
The absence of scientific evidence and rigorous debate about women’s health and reproduction in the committee meeting was striking. The bill’s supporters tried to focus the conversation on technicalities surrounding clinic inspections and standards of care, never mentioning women’s health and reproduction. No one presented evidence that there was a problem with women’s health that needed to be solved by the measures in the bill. Nor did lawmakers discuss the opinions of women’s health experts. Indeed, scholars and practitioners of women’s health had not even been consulted about the legislation.
Most striking, any attempt to steer the conversation toward the health of women was immediately shut down. When Democratic Rep. Verla Insko mentioned North Carolina’s refusal to accept federal monies for the expansion of Medicaid — money that would have provided health coverage to more pregnant women in the state — Republicans reacted angrily, describing the issue as a “red herring.”
Yet the public understood the issue at hand. Though invited to speak for less than an hour, men and women traveled from across the state, filling the committee room to capacity.
NARAL representative Suzanne Buckley got to the heart of the matter. The bill, she said, would make it “more difficult, if not impossible, for women in North Carolina to have access to safe and legal abortion care.”
Buckley noted that North Carolina has 18 pages of regulations that apply only to abortion providers, making it one of the most highly regulated procedures in the state.
“Existing laws and regulations governing abortion care in North Carolina work,” said Planned Parenthood representative Paige Johnson, describing the bill as “another step towards eliminating access to safe and legal abortion taken by those who oppose a woman’s right to make deeply personal and private decisions.”
So-called pro-life activists also realized that the intent of the bill was to restrict abortion. Speaking from the floor, Barbara Holt, president of North Carolina Right to Life, praised the bill for its “many pro-life provisions.”
Even Gov. Pat McCrory has seemed to recognize the true purpose of the legislation and threatened a veto on the basis of its unreasonable restrictions. In response, the House committee returned to private deliberations, presumably afraid to risk holding more public conversations where both supporters and opponents would directly engage the bill’s intentions.
Legislative Republicans worked to shut down public discussion and secure quick passage of the restrictions on abortion they placed in Senate Bill 353, the “Motorcycle Safety Act.”
The House passed the bill Thursday after a contentious debate in which Republicans continued to claim that their true intent was to protect women’s health.
When Democrats tried to discuss fundamental components of women’s health such as medical insurance, they were told that such comments were out of order and not relevant to the issue at hand.
As the bill returns to the Senate, members of the public will continue to insist on what we deserve, a frank discussion about the real issue at stake: whether abortion will remain safe and legal in North Carolina.
Lisa Levenstein is an associate professor of U.S. women’s history at UNCG.
cross posted with permission.