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The fine print on Pat McCrory's promises

Closing the circle on a story we've been following closely, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed a bill into law yesterday that curtails access to
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R)
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R)

Closing the circle on a story we've been following closely, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed a bill into law yesterday that curtails access to reproductive services in the state, despite promising North Carolinians he'd do the opposite during his 2012 campaign.

Supporters of Senate Bill 353, including the governor, have said it is about raising safety standards among the doctors and clinics that perform abortions.Abortion-rights advocates say that provisions of the law, such as excluding abortion coverage from health plans offered to city and county employees, would further limit the availability of and access to the procedure statewide. They argue that, in signing the measure, McCrory is breaking a campaign promise not to allow any further limits on abortion rights.

Defending the move yesterday, the Republican governor told reporters, "This law does not further limit access, and those who contend it does are more interested in politics than the health and safety of our citizens."

If McCrory sounds a tad defensive, there's a good reason. Just two weeks before Election Day last year, then-candidate McCrory was asked, "If you are elected governor, what further restrictions on abortion would you agree to sign?" He replied, simply, "None." McCrory did not elaborate or add any caveats at the time.

Now, I imagine many Americans have grown cynical about politics, and aren't terribly surprised when politicians break campaign promises. But this reversal seems especially brazen -- in October 2012, McCrory assured voters he won't place new restrictions on abortions, and in July 2013, he placed new restrictions on abortions.

The governor's latest argument seems to suggest his promise came with fine print voters weren't aware of during the campaign. Since the new state law merely promotes"safety," McCrory says, he's technically not lying.

But this shouldn't be a matter of interpretation, and there's an objective answer here. Either the new state law restricts access or it doesn't. So which is it?

While I can appreciate McCrory's desperate attempts at spin -- governors who run for re-election don't want to have to explain why they deserve the voters' trust after lying to them the last time -- his argument falls apart after minimal scrutiny.

Right off the bat, there the regulatory TRAP laws that are slated to close 15 of North Carolina's 16 women's health clinics. When there's one clinic providing abortion services in a state of 10 million people spanning 53,000 square miles, it's probably fair to say a whole lot of women are necessarily going to lose access.

What's more, WRAL detailed a series of related provisions in the newly signed law that make it that much more difficult to believe McCrory isn't limiting access.

* The bill allows any health care provider to opt out of providing care related to an abortion. This could lead to a shortage of personnel available during certain procedures.* The bill forbids health plans offered through the exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act from offering abortion coverage. While this does not restrict the availability of the procedure, it does limit the ability of women to acquire coverage that might pay for the procedure.* The bill forbids cities and counties from offering health plans that cover abortion procedures. Taken together, the two insurance provisions would make it more difficult for low-income women to seek abortions.

Looking ahead, proponents of reproductive rights are already moving forward with plans to challenge the new law in court.