RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina's legislature gave final passage Tuesday to a bill to require doctors and nurses to care for babies born alive during a failed late-term abortion or face big penalties, a measure opponents deemed legally unnecessary and a threat to abortion providers.
House lawmakers followed a day after Senate counterparts in approving the bill, which would mean prison time and big fines for medical practitioners who don't give children born despite a botched abortion the same protections as any other newborn.
A spokesman for Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper criticized the measure later Tuesday, raising expectations the governor would veto the legislation.
"This unnecessary legislation would criminalize doctors for a practice that simply does not exist," Ford Porter wrote in an email.
Republicans speaking in favor of the measure said it had nothing to do with abortion. The aim was protecting an infant if a late-term abortion was botched and the baby was born breathing and with a beating heart, said Republican Rep. Pat McElraft of Carteret County.
Abortion-rights lawmakers and activists strongly opposed the bill, saying state medical licensing boards and current criminal laws already punish doctors and nurses who fail to offer care to a newborn. Rather, they argue, the measure seeks to force medical actions between a physician and a pregnant woman, interfering with her right to an abortion.
They added that medical providers could be charged with murder for some of the acts the bill's supporters described.
"Do any of you really think that infanticide is legal in North Carolina?" responded Democratic Rep. Susan Fisher of Buncombe County. She questioned why Republicans who have controlled the legislature for nearly a decade hadn't acted earlier if they believed babies were being left to die or even killed after being born alive.
Fisher said the measure's real purpose was to intimidate health care providers from conducting legally allowed abortions. The legislation would impose prison time and potential $250,000 fines for medical practitioners who fail to provide sufficient care.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported more than 140 infant deaths involved induced terminations nationwide from 2003 to 2014. It hasn't specified what level of care those newborns received.
North Carolina Republicans have passed abortion restrictions this decade, including one that extended the waiting period for the procedure to 72 hours. But a North Carolina law adjusted in 2015 to limit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy to only those during a medical emergency was struck down by a federal judge. He delayed enforcement of his decision so the state could appeal or rewrite that law.