It’s not 1965 but women in North Carolina are fighting for access to abortion.
The state Department of Health and Human Services held a public hearing Friday to receive comments on abortion regulations that it reviewed under a 2013 Sharia Law/motorcycle safety bill. The Department will decide whether to change the draft rules before adopting them, with expected interference from hard-right state lawmakers in the next legislative session.
Obstetricians, physicians, nurses and other medical professionals said they are satisfied with the new regulations that don’t place undue burdens on a woman seeking to terminate a pregnancy. A lobbyist, an attorney and an Australian P.E. teacher said the regulations aren’t burdensome enough.
“The Department of Health has written a set of regulations with women’s health in mind and with extensive input from legitimate women’s healthcare experts,” said Suzanne Buckley, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice NC, a non-profit that works to protect access to reproductive services.
“We urge the Department not to be swayed by those intent on imposing medically unnecessary restrictions and reducing access to safe and legal abortion in North Carolina.”
The Division of Health Service Regulations director Drexdal Pratt coordinated the hour-long hearing. Eleven speakers commended the rules as written and admonished DHHS to keep them free from medically inappropriate political interference. They maintain that current abortion practices are safe—less than one percent of patients experience complications, making the procedure safer than childbirth—and common—one in three American women will have an abortion before the age of 45.
“My patients’ safety is my top priority,” said Dr. Gretchen Stuart, a board-certified OB/GYN and the director of Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina. “I’m proud of the excellent care I provide them.”
North Carolina is one of several states across the country that have enacted TRAP laws— targeted at regulating abortion providers by placing undue burdens on both providers and on women seeking abortion services—in the past few years. Such laws require clinics to meet the standard of ambulatory care centers which perform complicated surgical procedures, or require patients to wait excessive lengths of time before having an abortion.
“Medical experts see these approaches for what they are, attempts to restrict access to abortion,” Stuart said. “They do nothing to advance women’s health. Instead, such targeted regulation increases costs and delays for my patients and for the women of North Carolina.”
Ultra-conservative lobbyist Tami Fitzgerald, mother-in-law of state Senator Chad Barefoot and vocal Amendment One proponent, said she has many problems with the rules, including their coming out right before Christmas.
“It’s obviously a ploy to deceive the public and to swoosh these under the rug,” she said.
Ironically, abortion language was inserted into Senate bill 353 in a late-night legislative session before the 2013 July 4th holiday. Governor Pat McCrory signed the bill into law later that month, going back on a promise not to put his signature on any more abortion restrictions before he took office.
Fitzgerald is also mad about the composition of the DHHS stakeholder committee, whose members were appointed to help develop the rules.
“It’s biased, to say the least,” she said. “There was only one person on the committee who held a pro-life view. The rest of the committee was composed of doctors, abortion providers, activists in the abortion industry who care very much about protecting access at the expense of the safety of women.”
DHHS will continue to consider the rules until January 30, 2015. Members of the public may email comments until then, to