North Carolina, already a state with strict abortion limits, appears poised to layer on new restrictions.
The Republican-led state Senate voted 29-12 Wednesday to approve legislation that sets new licensing standards for abortion providers, prohibits gender-selective abortions, restricts insurance coverage of abortion, and mandates the physical presence of a physician during the entire procedure.
North Carolina's Senate vote arrived just days after Ohio passed some of the most restrictive abortion measures in the country via its state budget bill, and amid an ongoing battle in Texas over strikingly similar legislation. These states follow a wave of new anti-abortion laws proposed this year in a number of Republican-dominated state legislatures, including North Dakota and Arkansas.
The North Carolina proposal, tacked onto an unrelated measure targeting Sharia law, will now advance to the House, where Republicans also hold the majority.
While Texas Gov. Rick Perry has led the fight in favor of greater abortion restrictions in that state, going so far as to order the Legislature back to their seats for a second special session during the usual summer break, it remains unclear what N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory, also a Republican, will do. He said in a statement that he was concerned about his party's move to rush the abortion regulations, but managed to knock the Democratic Party at the same time.
"When the Democrats were in power, this is the way they did business," said the governor in a statement, his first on the controversial legislation. "It was not right then and it is not right now. Regardless of what party is in charge or what important issue is being discussed, the process must be appropriate and thorough."
McCrory said in his 2012 campaign that he would not sign any further restrictions on abortion into law, but it remains unclear whether he would veto this legislation should it come to his desk.
"These legislators oppose women’s rights to make personal medical decisions, and they’re playing dirty tricks to pass their abortion wish list,” Alison Kiser, director of public affairs at Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina told msnbc.
North Carolina is already one of nine states that ban abortions after 20 weeks--an unconstitutional law, according to the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade. It also insists that women undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion, and a new law, which was temporarily stopped by a judge, would make women look at the ultrasound image and listen to a description of the fetus.
Hundreds of protesters watched the debate Wednesday and final passage after pro-choice groups like NARAL and Action NC sent emails calling supporters to pack the Senate gallery. They were ordered by Senate leadership to remain quiet. (Protesters helped disrupt a vote on abortion restrictions in Texas last week.)
No such opposition was present on Tuesday night in North Carolina, however, when the proposed restrictions were unexpectedly moved forward by a vote of 27-14.
The Senate committee meeting Tuesday, where the abortion measures were introduced, was set to focus on a bill prohibiting the use of Islamic law in state court. According to NewsObserver, lobbyists who supported the restrictions--including representatives from N.C. Values Coalition, the N.C. Family Policy Council, and N.C. Right to Life--were at the committee meeting, while lobbyists opposed to the measures were not told they were being debated.
Opponents argue the legislation would close clinic doors by requiring they meet new licensing standards, similar to those of ambulatory surgical centers. According to legislative staff, only one clinic in the state currently meets those standards, NewsObserver reports. North Carolina's four Planned Parenthood clinics do not.
The bill, if approved, "has the potential to shut down providers across the state," Melissa Reed, vice president of public affairs at Planned Parenthood Health Systems, told the Associated Press. "Abortion is one of the most common and safe medical procedure done in the United States and in North Carolina. It is already heavily regulated."
A number of Democratic lawmakers voiced their opposition to the measure leading up to its passage. State Sen. Earline Parmon called the bill "atrocious" and "shameful" during debate Wednesday, and said it would dictate personal medical decisions that should be left between a woman and her doctor. And U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan took to Twitter to voice her disappointment:
As a former state sen. I am appalled at #ncga actions. North carolinians expect transparency, not procedural tricks— Senator Kay Hagan (@SenatorHagan) July 3, 2013