Republicans in the North Carolina state Senate passed a bill Thursday that bans abortions after 12 weeks and makes it more difficult to access care prior to that point in pregnancy.
Senate Bill 20 makes it illegal for women to seek abortions after 12 weeks, down from existing state law which allows abortions up to 20 weeks. The bill includes exceptions allowing abortions up to 20 weeks in cases of rape and incest and up to 24 weeks for “life-limiting” fetal abnormalities. It also maintains current law which allows abortions at any time during pregnancy if the mother’s life is at risk.
Republicans have touted these exceptions in an effort to paint the bill as a reasonable compromise, but the bill’s 12-week cutoff has been criticized as “arbitrary” by medical experts like Dr. Beverly Gray, the division chief of women’s community and population health and an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Duke University.
“There are many scenarios where patients need care after 12 weeks. Some of them receive devastating news of a birth defect. Or, at that point in pregnancy sometimes patients have medical complications,” Gray said. “It’s unclear in this legislation who is sick enough for us to care for. That makes it very challenging for us to do our jobs effectively.”
The bill would also require women seeking abortions before the 12-week mark to jump through several new hoops in order to receive care.
The legislation mandates that women go to three in-person appointments to receive medication abortion care, with each appointment being at least 72 hours apart from the others, a measure that abortion rights supporters have said will be most difficult for women who have trouble getting off work, have children to care for, or live far from a clinic.
“Many of the specifications of this bill are not in line with the current medical research and put undue burden on our patients,” Dr. Abby Schultz, a North Carolina OB/GYN said Wednesday during a public comment before the House Rules committee.
The bill also implements hugely restrictive regulations on abortion clinics, which could force many of them to close their doors. These restrictions include new standards and licensing requirements.
Jillian Riley, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, told lawmakers on Wednesday that none of her group’s facilities in the state meet those requirements currently, and that the bill’s goal is simply “to shut down abortion clinics.”
“This is a horrendous, monster abortion ban cloaked in medical misinformation, misdirection, and straight-up lies,” Riley added in a public statement. “Politicians are putting pregnant people at risk and stripping us of our rights to build our families and futures. And this isn’t the end: this bill is part of a nationwide campaign by anti-abortion extremists to completely end legal abortion throughout the United States.”
Congresswoman Deborah Ross (D-North Carolina) said that “by putting even more limits on access to abortion, North Carolina Republicans are attacking women, their doctors, and their most personal medical decisions.”
The bill previously passed the state House on Wednesday and now heads to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who has said that he will veto the legislation. However, Rep. Tricia Cotham switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican party last month, handing the GOP veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate.
If Republicans are in fact able to override Cooper’s veto, the bill could have devastating consequences for patients and doctors.
The bill states that any abortions performed after the first trimester of pregnancy—which under the ban would only include abortions in cases of rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, or to save the life of the mother—must take place in a hospital. This could lead to extra costs, making it harder for low-income women to access care.
Under the bill, doctors could also face a $5,000 fine and the possibility of losing their license if they perform abortions outside the allowed time frames. The bill also creates a new class D felony and $250,000 fine for any physician who doesn’t provide care to infants who survive abortions, an incredibly rare occurrence, as fewer than 1% of all abortions happen after the point of viability, which is roughly around 23 to 24 weeks.
Furthermore, the bill mandates that any person or organization that is caught sending abortion-inducing drugs directly to a woman could face a $5,000 fine per violation. It also makes it illegal for doctors to perform an abortion if they’re aware that a woman seeking one seeks to do so because of the “presumed presence of Down syndrome” in the fetus.
Both the content of the bill and the process through which it was passed drew criticism from supporters of reproductive freedom.
The proposed ban was unveiled Tuesday evening after months of negotiations between state House and Senate GOP members. The House rushed to pass the 46-page bill on Wednesday night, over the protests from doctors, constituents, and Democrats. It cleared the Senate Thursday afternoon in a 29-20 vote.
The process was so rushed that one of the bill’s biggest supporters, State Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth) did not read the text of it until Wednesday and was unable to answer specific questions about its provisions and impacts when asked about it during a floor debate on Thursday.
The ban will also have a huge ripple effect outside of North Carolina, as the state has become an abortion-rights sanctuary in the South since the fall of Roe v. Wade last summer, as many surrounding states enacted 6-week or outright bans with few or no exceptions.
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