Women would have to wait 72 hours in North Carolina before obtaining an abortion under a bill recommended Wednesday by a state House committee, the latest move by Republicans to place controls around the procedure and reduce its occurrence.
The bill would expand the time a pregnant woman must wait after receiving information in person or over the phone from an abortion provider. The 72-hour wait would be up from the current 24-hour wait, which was approved less than four years ago by the GOP-led legislature.
Primary sponsor Rep. Susan Martin, R-Wilson, said the measure is designed to protect the health of women and give them enough time and information to make an informed choice about what she called an “irreversible decision.”
North Carolina Republicans at the General Assembly have passed at least seven abortion-related laws since 2011, which abortion opponents argue have contributed to fewer abortions in the state.
“It doesn’t limit someone’s choice, but it does give them more time and respects them and it protects their health,” Martin told the House Health Committee, which approved the measure 20-10. The bill’s next stop is the House floor Thursday. “And also we think that it will protect people’s lives.”
But abortion-rights advocates disagreed strongly, saying it delays access to a safe and legal procedure. Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, called it a “paternalistic” bill that removes “a woman’s right to have control over her own body.”
“There is a very short window of time for a woman to make these deeply personal decisions and politicians should not be placing unnecessary barriers for those women,” said Melissa Reed with Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, which includes the group’s North Carolina clinics.
Only three other states – Missouri, South Dakota and Utah – require women to wait 72 hours after mandated counseling before they can get an abortion, according to research from the Guttmacher Institute.
The public comments before the committee were dominated by people and groups who supported the measure, with speakers reading letters from women who said they regretted their decision to have abortions and wish they had more time to consider it at the time.
Reed said abortion rights advocates were essentially shut out of the debate, although Dr. Dalia Brahmi, a physician who provides abortions at Planned Parenthood clinics, spoke in opposition.
Brahmi called the legislation “dangerous” because “it would mandate a medically unnecessary 72-hour delay.”
“Delaying access limits the options for medical abortion and in some cases (forces) women to have a surgical procedure when the less invasive treatment such as abortion with pills might be preferred,” she said.
But Dr. Stacy Boulton, a Wake County OB-GYN, said any increase in the risk of complications are negligible when weighed “against letting all women have more time to deal with emotion and fear to make a more informed decision.”
The bill’s sponsors removed a provision that would have barred medical professionals at the University of North Carolina and East Carolina University medical schools from performing abortions except in cases of rape and incest and when the woman’s life is in danger. The provision was designed to ensure taxpayer dollars weren’t used for abortion.
Another bill sponsor, Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer, R-Mecklenburg, said that provision was deleted after concerns were raised by many people, including members of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration.
McCrory has said in the past he was opposed to measures that would limit abortion access. McCrory’s office or the Department of Health and Health Services, which regulates abortion in the state, didn’t respond to an email Wednesday seeking comment about the change.
The bill would require physicians performing abortions performed on or after 18th week of pregnancy to provide data to DHHS about the pregnancies they terminate. After the 20th week of pregnancy, doctors would have to explain how continuing the pregnancy would have threatened the life and health of the mother. North Carolina bars these late-term pregnancies, save for these exclusions.
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