Perdue vetoes changes to abortion law

Jun. 27, 2011 5:44 pm

Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed a bill Monday afternoon that would require women in North Carolina to complete specialized counseling and a 24-hour waiting period before obtaining an abortion.

House Bill 854 passed 29-20 in the Senate on June 15. It passed 71-48 in the House on June 7.

The bill will now return to the the House, where  lawmakers would need 30 votes in the House to override the veto and send it back to the Senate. Seventy-two votes are needed to override the veto in the Senate and become a law. That means that in in both chambers, legislators would need one additional supporter to pass the bill.

The bill included several changes to the state’s abortion rules, including the introduction of a mandatory waiting period and certification of the woman’s “informed consent” to an abortion. That consent would have required the woman to obtain a description the medical risks associated with the planned procedure as well as the medical risks associated with carrying the pregnancy to term. The woman would have also had to undergo an ultrasound and heart-tone monitoring that enable her to view, in the bill’s own language, “the probable gestational age of the child.”

Abortion in national spotlight

The “Abortion – Women’s Right to Know Act” parallels similar measures passed in South Carolina, Florida and a handful of other states in the last two years. The National Counsel of State Legislatures, a bipartisan research organization, reports that 26 states require waiting periods of 18 to 24 hours for an abortion. Thirty-four states require counseling before the procedure can be performed.

In recent months, Republican-controlled state governments across the nation have introduced new abortion restrictions.

On June 6, a federal district court heard arguments from Indiana state attorneys and Planned Parenthood on a budget bill signed by Gov. Mitch Daniels. That budget cut $3 million in public funding for birth control, sexually transmitted disease testing and cancer screenings. It also blocked federal funding for Planned Parenthood, that state’s largest abortion provider.

Federal rules already prohibit the use of Medicaid funding for abortion except to save the life of the woman or in the case of incest or rape.

‘Offensive to women and to doctors’

In North Carolina, the new bill’s primary sponsors are Republican Reps. Ruth Samuelson and Pat McElraft. It has one Independent and 41 GOP co-sponsors.

“We think this is a terrible bill,” said Carol Teal, executive director of Lillian’s List of North Carolina. “We think it’s offensive to women and to doctors.” Lillian’s List recruits and supports pro-choice, Democratic women legislators.

“It’s bad public policy. It’s bad medical policy,” said Dr. David Grimes, former chief of the abortion surveillance branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “There’s no scripted informed consent for any other surgical procedure.”

Grimes said that imposing a waiting period for abortion hurts women’s health.

“It’s linked to an increase in teen births, particularly black teen births,” he said. He added that a teen who lives in a county where there is no abortion provider may not be able to afford to spend the night in a neighboring county to meet the requirements. The measure could also imposed undue financial hardship on low-income women who would miss extra days of work and have to pay for additional childcare if they had to travel to have the procedure performed, he said.

Grimes also criticized the bill for using what he called emotionally loaded language. The bill’s definitions use the word “child,” rather than “embryo” or “fetus,” the medical terms used to describe a pregnancy.

“A child is not what’s in the uterus,” Grimes said. “A baby is not what’s in the uterus. A fetus is not capable of surviving outside of the uterus, and to use this kind of language is an intentional misuse for emotional purpose.”

“I’ve listened to people who support this bill, and they have a demeaning view of women,” he continued. “The (bill’s supporters) think they’re flighty, capricious, and incapable of making important decisions.”

‘Protecting the rights of the woman’

Christina Geradts, a UNC student and member of the campus group Carolina Students for Life, disagreed.

“In my eyes, it is more about protecting the rights of the woman than undermining or demeaning them,” she said.

“How could ensuring that a woman has all the facts – all the pros and cons of such a big decision – be harmful?” she wrote in an email message. “Making sure that the woman knows the medical, physical, emotional, and psychological damage an abortion can (but not necessarily will) have, as well as the possible negative effects of carrying the pregnancy to term, is beneficial for the health and well-being of the pregnant woman.”

Geradts said that many people mistakenly believe the bill requires women to look at an ultrasound before having an abortion.

“This is not true,” she said.

Language in the bill suggests that pregnant women will have the right to avert their eyes from the ultrasound.

“But is must be available to her,” Geradts said of the ultrasound.

Perdue, whose spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson described as “pro-choice,” has 10 days from June 16 to sign or veto the bill.