News: CJ Exclusives

NCGA Primed to Debate Informed-Consent Abortion Bill

Measure would require ultrasound, waiting period before abortion

Pro-lifers say a bill pending in the General Assembly would save thousands of unborn lives by ensuring that abortion-minded women are furnished with needed information before choosing to terminate a pregnancy.

The proposed law would signal a sweeping change for North Carolina, which has few abortion restrictions on the books, and is sure to generate heated political discussion as it makes its way through the legislature, a process sponsors say will start soon.

“Abortion is a surgical procedure that affects two lives, and I believe it’s important for a woman to have complete and accurate information before she consents to the procedure. Right now, that’s not required,” said Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg, a chief sponsor of the bill.

The measure — House Bill 854, Abortion-Woman’s Right to Know Act — would bar physicians from performing an abortion without a woman’s “voluntary and informed consent.” Among other provisions, that translates into a 24-hour waiting period prior to the procedure, an ultrasound image of the unborn child, and notarized parental consent for a minor’s abortion.

The woman would have to certify in writing that she was provided the information. The signed statement would be retained in her medical records.

In addition, the measure would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to published material on its website on abortion alternatives, such as adoption, and information on fetal development. The website also would say that life begins at conception, and abortion “will terminate the life of a separate, unique living human being.”

Pro-choice forces say the measure would force women to jump through too many hoops to obtain an abortion.

“This is the most intrusive legislation that’s ever been introduced on reproductive health care,” said Paige Johnson, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina. “This would be the first time that politicians carved out a particular medical procedure and told doctors how to practice.”

Samuelson emphasized that the bill doesn’t restrict abortion. It only provides more information. “The choice is still hers,” she said. “No one is taking away her choice. But it becomes an informed choice.”

Political fight

Pro-life issues have taken a backseat this legislative session, upended by budgets and redistricting. One exception is House Bill 215, a measure that would recognize a separate, unborn victim in the event of a violent crime against a pregnant woman. It passed both chambers of the legislature with bipartisan support and now goes to Perdue.

House budget writers also are moving to cut off state funding to Planned Parenthood. The abortion-provider received $473,000 in taxpayer-funded grants for teen pregnancy and birth control programs.

The informed-consent bill should prove a tougher fight. Pro-life Republicans have pushed similar legislation for decades without success. Bolstered by new majorities in the House and Senate, they see this year as a prime opportunity to pass it.

“Any good government should be involved in protecting the welfare of its citizens, whether born or unborn,” said Barbara Holt, president of North Carolina Right to Life.

The bill could face a roadblock in the House, where Republicans have a 68-member majority, four votes short of the three-fifths needed to overcome a veto from Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue.

Despite that, House Majority Leader Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake, said the bill would be voted out of committee and pass the House before crossover deadline May 12, after which non-fiscal bills aren’t eligible for consideration.

Stam, who chairs the House judiciary subcommittee that would hear the bill, also predicted a Perdue veto. “This is the one they fear more than anything,” he said, “and I would expect we would have enough votes to override it.”

‘A medical procedure’

One part of the bill particularly onerous to pro-choicers would require abortion providers to run an ultrasound image at least four hours before the procedure and explain the unborn child’s development to the woman.

They also object to a provision that requires parental consent for a minor’s abortion be written and notarized in order to be valid.

Abortion shouldn’t be viewed differently from any other surgery, and it’s controversial only to lawmakers who use it to play politics, Johnson said.

“It’s a medical procedure. The controversy is political,” she said.

Samuelson disagreed. “I think reasonable people will agree that an abortion is vastly different from any other medical procedure,” she said. “I think the real question here is: Why would someone not want women to be fully informed before they make a decision about it?”

Tweaked in committee

If passed, the informed-consent law would mirror similar statutes in the neighboring states of South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Some elements of the bill, such as the exact language of the sonogram requirement, will be tweaked in committee, Samuelson said, but the measure’s core will remain intact.

Sen. Andrew Brock, a Davie County Republican, has filed a companion bill in the Senate.

David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.