News: CJ Exclusives

Rhetorical Bullets Fly As House Committee OKs Abortion Bill

Measure on fast track, now moves to House floor

Is pregnancy punishment? Is the process of getting an abortion comparable to refinancing a mortgage? Do abortion providers disproportionately target African-American women? Those were some of the questions bandied about for two hours Wednesday morning before a House judiciary subcommittee gave its stamp of approval to a contentious informed-consent abortion bill.

The legislation — House Bill 854, Abortion-Woman’s Right to Know Act — passed by a party line 9-5 vote and now goes to the House floor. Republicans have enough support in both chambers to pass it, although a veto from Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue is likely.

Among other components, the proposed law would require a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion, an ultrasound image of the unborn child, and notarized parental consent for a minor’s abortion. Pro-lifers say the bill would save thousands of unborn lives each year.

Most of the measure’s provisions remained intact, with two exceptions. In the first instance, bill sponsors opted to eliminate requirements that physicians report the number of women who avail themselves of material on abortion risks, or who opted to view the ultrasound image.

In the second instance, sponsors nixed the phrase “the life of each human being begins at conception,” and “abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique living human being,” from printed information that would be offered to abortion-minded women.

Emotions run high

Before taking a vote, committee members heard a wide-ranging debate between physicians, religious leaders, and post-abortive women on the merits of the bill.

Heather Kay, a woman who chose abortion in 2006 due to her unborn child’s severe brain damage, said that H.B. 854 would have imposed burdensome steps in the way of a decision she already had made.

“It’s a slippery slope when lawmakers start specifying the who, what, where, when, and how of the most personal decision a woman will have to make,” Kay said. “The only people that should be involved in any portion of this decision-making process are a woman and her physicians.”

Others pointed to the medical and psychological risks of abortion as justification for more thorough informed-consent standards. Martha Shuping, a psychiatrist, said she personally had treated hundreds of women suffering from mental health problems in the wake of an abortion.

“The women who come to me say they wish they had received better information about the risks before they made their abortion decision,” Shuping said. “One North Carolina woman told me that she received better informed consent when her dog had surgery compared to what she received when she had her abortion.”

Marty McCaffrey, a neonatologist and associate professor of pediatrics at UNC-Chapel Hill, testified about the link between abortion and subsequent risk of pre-term births in women. “The truth is that if abortions were bananas, they would be covered with surgeon general warnings,” he said.

Race also entered the debate when Rev. Johnny Hunter, national director of the pro-life African-American group LEARN, raised a documentary on abortions in the black community.

“We’re tired of being fooled. Anybody who has no problem killing a baby has no problem killing off black folks,” he said.

Members’ row

After an hour of testimony, committee members got their say, and some used the hearing as an opportunity to soapbox on the finer points of the abortion debate that’s raged for four decades.

Democrats complained that the bill would be too costly — financially, that is. Official estimates put the price tag at $6.8 million next year, a figure that encompasses Medicaid costs associated with caring for the unborn children who would be born, rather than aborted, if the legislation passes.

Republicans decried inserting finances into the discussion. “With the budget that we put together, I have no doubt that if we have to spend $6.7 million next year because more children are born, then we can do it,” said Rep. Justin Burr, R-Stanly.

Rep. Alice Borden, D-Alamance, suggested the bill was more about repressing woman than abortion. Having women be unable to terminate their pregnancy “is the goal” and an effort to return to times past when “pregnancy was punishment” for careless sex, Bordsen said.

Some Democrats objected to the time delay caused by providing women with additional information. House Majority Leader Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake, admitted there would be a delay, but he compared the process to government requirements for people seeking to refinance their homes.

A few minutes before members took a final vote, Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake, walked out of the hearing, leaving five Democrats to vote against the bill.

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

[Editor’s note: In a telephone interview, Martin said he had a bill in another judiciary subcommittee that he had to address members on at the last minute. He said that he will vote against the informed-consent abortion bill on the House floor and that he wasn’t trying to avoid a tough vote in committee by leaving early.