Local News
9:25 am
Tue July 30, 2013

NC Explainer: Abortion Regulations

WFAE's Marshall Terry and Michael Tomsic discuss new abortion regulations in North Carolina.
Credit NC General Assembly

This week, WFAE is taking a closer look at laws the North Carolina General Assembly passed during the session that ended last week. Yesterday, we examined gun legislation. Today, we're explaining the new abortion regulations.

This was controversial legislation, as abortion bills usually are. There were people upset about how it was attached to an unrelated bill. And then there's the content of the bill itself, which Governor McCrory signed Monday.

He made a campaign promise not to sign any new abortion restrictions into law. That's a promise he acknowledged in a press conference last week:

"I made a commitment that I would not sign any act that would require or which would limit future access," McCrory said. "We are not signing a bill which would limit future access. I want to state that again, we are not signing bill which would limit future access."

But in some ways, the new law does limit future access.

If you're a city or county employee right now, your health plan may cover an abortion. But that'll soon be illegal. Cities and counties will be barred from covering abortions as part of their health plans. So some women will lose abortion coverage that they currently have.

And here's another restriction, this one tied to the health insurance exchange that people can start signing up for in October as part of the Affordable Care Act: companies that offer North Carolinians plans through that exchange also cannot cover abortions.

There are exceptions for rape, incest or if the mother's life is in danger. 

New Standards For Abortion Clinics

Whether the new law limits access in other ways depends on how the governor's administration rolls out new standards for abortion clinics.

The legislation puts the state secretary of health and human services in charge of coming up with the new standards. But they're supposed to be similar to those of outpatient surgery centers. Those centers commonly provide things like colonoscopies and arthroscopic knee surgeries.

And of the 16 or so abortion clinics in North Carolina, only one currently meets that standard. So the big question right now is: will the other clinics have to shut down?

Governor McCrory said they won't. 

"My secretary of health and human services, Aldona Wos, will be writing the regulations," he said in that press conference last week. "And our goal is to keep every current facility open that is open today."

But some of the people who run the clinics don't see how that's possible if the new standards are, in fact, similar to outpatient surgery centers. Melissa Reed is a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, which operates abortion clinics in North Carolina and several other states.

"Those surgical standards in other states have meant that providers have had to shut down because they can't meet these onerous and unnecessary up-fits to their facilities," Reed said.

Here's why she calls them "onerous" – it cost Planned Parenthood about $350,000 dollars per clinic to meet similarly strict regulations in Virginia. She said an organization of Planned Parenthood’s size can handle that price tag, but it’s high enough to shut down some smaller providers.

Also, Reed argues the changes are "unnecessary" because she doesn’t see any problems with abortion safety as of now. 

Abortion Safety In North Carolina

But depending on who you ask, you'll get very different answers to how safe abortions are in the state. 

Republicans behind the bill point out that two abortion clinics in North Carolina had their licenses suspended over the past few months. They say that's evidence of a problem. But opponents of the bill say that's evidence that current regulations are working.

Also, I talked to a doctor who used to be in charge of monitoring legal abortions for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He doesn't see a problem here. He says abortions have been practiced safely in North Carolina for decades.

The new law also adds regulations for doctors. When an abortion requires surgery, a doctor is required to be physically present for the entire procedure. And the doctor must also be present when a patient gets the first dose of an abortion pill.

And there are parts of this legislation that are not focused on safety.

For example, it prohibits sex-selective abortions. That means getting an abortion just because you don't want a boy or girl. That's been an issue in China with its one-child-per-family policy, but it's unclear if there have been any cases of that happening here.

Governor McCrory signed the legislation Monday, so most of the changes will go into effect in October.