North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) says he will now sign a bill regulating abortion clinics in the state, after the House passed a version that would give state health officials some leeway in writing the regulations. But the Senate may balk on the House-passed changes.
"If the General Assembly sends me the Senate-approved bill (HB 695), I will veto it. If I get the House-passed bill (SB 353), I'll sign it," McCrory said in an official statement on Friday. "The recent House version allows the medical professionals at the Department of Health and Human Services to write the rules which will ensure women's safety. I want to thank those who worked on an improved bill which will better protect women while not further limiting access."
The North Carolina House of Representatives voted 74-41 on Thursday in favor of SB 353, which allows state health officials to write rules specific to the abortion industry, instead of requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards of all ambulatory surgical centers in the state. Abortion providers have claimed that only one clinic in the state currently meets these standards. Pro-choice advocates say the ambulatory surgical center standards will limit access to abortions, while pro-life advocates argue that patient safety is at stake. The bill is now headed to the Senate for an up or down vote, although it is not yet known when, or whether, the Senate will approve it. If the Senate votes no, the legislation will go into a House-Senate conference for negotiation.
McCrory, a Republican, had previously threatened to veto HB 695, which is the Senate version of the legislation, saying that he was unhappy with the language in the bill.
The News & Observer in Raleigh, NC said that there were not many differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, though the Senate bill wanted abortion clinics to meet standards similar to outpatient surgery centers. The requirement would have placed a greater financial burden on state clinics and potentially forced 16 of them to close down, leaving only one clinic that met the standards.
The House-approved bill, on the other hand, allows the Department of Health and Human Services to develop regulations, which could still be strict but not "unduly restricting access." Another difference between the bills is that SB 353, the House version, allows the state to create temporary rules without legislative approval, before establishing permanent ones.
"This is really all about protecting the health and safety of women. Problems do exist in some of our abortion clinics, and that's what we're trying to address," Rep. Ruth Samuelson (R-Mecklenburg) told fellow lawmakers, noting that abortion clinics standards had not been updated since 1994.
The NC abortion bill, as well as a similar one in Texas that seeks to tighten regulations on abortion-providing clinics and potentially limit the number of facilities, has reignited the abortion debate in America.
Sixty-four pro-abortion demonstrators in North Carolina were arrested on July 8 for refusing to leave the legislative chambers while at a "Moral Monday" protest aimed at opposing abortion restrictions.
Pro-life supporters, however, have backed the Senate bill, although they have acknowledged that there is still work to be done before the bill becomes law.
"Our hard work on behalf of the most defenseless among us is not over. We are so very close to passing our pro-life provisions which will save the lives of many unborn children," writes NC Right to Life, which provided live Twitter updates during the House debate on Thursday.
Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said following the House vote on the organization's official website that "the fight for this bill is not over yet, so we need to keep praying."
"The dynamics involved are complex and much more than meet the eye. Nothing can be taken for granted," he added.
"But we can celebrate the courage and thorough work of House members who sought to make this measure workable and help ensure its passage."
(NOTE - This article replaces a previous article, "North Carolina House Passes Anti-Abortion Bill, but GOP Governor Threatens Veto" which incorrectly indicated the governor would veto the House version of the bill. )