RALEIGH, N.C. -- Senate Republicans have given their final approval to legislation requiring additional rules surrounding abortions in North Carolina, even as hundreds of protesters against the bill watched from the gallery.
The Senate voted 29-12 Wednesday for the measure that would direct regulators to change abortion clinic rules so they're similar to those for ambulatory surgery centers. The bill would still need House approval, which couldn't happen until at least next week.
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The bill also would prohibit gender-selective abortions, restrict abortion insurance coverage and require a physician be physically present during an entire surgical abortion.
“I am saddened by the reality of baby girls being aborted in our country, simply because they are girls,” said state Sen. Shirley Randleman, (R) Wilkesboro.
But Sen. Mike Woodard (D) of Durham took to the floor to say the bill was a flagrant attempt to catch up with other states in seizing attention to limit abortions.
“You couldn't let Rick Perry get ahead of you in his follow up actions, and you couldn't let John Kasich and his Ohio bill get ahead of you,” Woodard said.
GOP legislators backing the bill say the measure will make abortion procedures safer for women and bring clinics in line with other medical facilities. Opponents say the changes could close clinic doors and trample on women's rights.
The GOP dominated State Senate of North Carolina passed the sweeping anti-abortion restrictions with less than 24 hours of debate, prompting Democrats to complain of a “sneak attack.”
Various pieces of legislation restricting abortion had been floating around the state House and Senate but senators rolled the legislation onto an unrelated bill and passed it on the floor late Tuesday with no notice to Democratic opponents, but anti-abortion groups watching from the balcony.
Opponents of the bill say it would effectively shut down every abortion clinic in North Carolina except one, and the impact on women’s health would extend beyond abortions.
“We are losing, for these patients, cancer screening, health checkups, family planning for low income women without insurance,” said State Sen. Ellie Kinnard (D) of Chapel Hill, who tried to attach an amendment placing restrictions on erectile dysfunction drugs, which was summarily defeated.
After more than two hours of debate, the bill passed along strict party lines with nine members absent.
Governor Pat McCrory issued a statement following the vote saying:
“When the Democrats were in power, this is the way they did business. 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."
U.S. Senator Kay Hagan issued a statement calling the bill a “sneak attack,” and took to Twitter to say, “As a former State Senator, I am appalled at #ncga (North Carolina General Assembly) actions. North Carolinians expect transparency, not procedural tricks.”
The bill now lands on the desk of House Speaker Thom Tillis, who is running for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate and hopes to face Hagan in the general election.