CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CNS) — A new law that tightens regulations on North Carolina’s 16 abortion clinics, bans abortions based on the child’s gender, and expands conscience protections for health care providers is to go into effect Oct. 1.
Signed into law by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory July 29, the legislation requires the state’s Department of Health and Human Services to adopt procedures making abortion clinics conform to similar safety standards as outpatient surgery centers — the first regulatory overhaul for abortion clinics since 1994.
It also prevents so-called “webcam” abortions by requiring a physician to be in the same room as the patient who is receiving abortion-inducing drugs, rather the doctor watching from a remote location via closed-circuit television while another clinic staff member administers the drugs.
Both of North Carolina’s Catholic bishops, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Raleigh and Bishop Peter J. Jugis of Charlotte, had expressed support for the legislation, calling the proposals “significant protections for the unborn in North Carolina.”
Through their public policy arm, Catholic Voice North Carolina, the bishops issued a joint statement of thanks July 31 commending everyone who supported passage of the bill. Nearly 1,000 participants of Catholic Voice had sent emails to McCrory urging him to sign the bill.
“Let us together continue to pray for the day when the choice for life is the choice of all,” the bishops said in their statement.
McCrory came under pressure from supporters of legal abortion in the waning days of the legislative session to veto S.B. 353. Opponents of the legislation had claimed the stricter health and safety regulations would force many of the state’s abortion clinics to shut down — limiting access to abortion services, something McCrory had pledged not to do during his 2012 gubernatorial campaign.
A similar bill would have also required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges to hospitals located within 30 miles of their abortion clinic, but it failed to make it through the legislative session after McCrory threatened to veto it.
In a statement issued July 29, North Carolina Right to Life — which had lobbied strongly for the legislation — declared “victory for the babies!” on its website, www.ncrtl.org.
“With S.B. 353, North Carolina will join Virginia, South Carolina and Tennessee, as well as 19 other states, by opting out of abortion coverage in the federal health insurance exchange; 14 states that ban ‘webcam’ abortions; and six states that prohibit sex-selection abortion,” the statement said.
The new regulations will ensure abortion clinics are not allowed to operate with unsafe or unsanitary conditions, similar to what recently occurred at a Charlotte abortion clinic called Preferred Women’s Health Center. It was shut down but allowed to reopen after promising to correct the problems.
The state agency responsible for regulating abortion clinics must give a progress report to state legislators no later than Jan. 1, 2014, on their efforts to set up the new regulations, but the law does not specify when new clinic regulations must take effect.
If state health officials need more resources to set up or enforce the new regulations, they have until April 1, 2014, to request them from the state legislative oversight committee.
Meanwhile, the new state budget includes funding to double the state health department’s team from 10 to 20 people –enabling the agency to conduct more inspections more frequently than their current average of once every two to three years, the agency noted in a July 31 statement.
The new law also will:
— Limits abortion funding under health insurance plans set up through the federal health insurance exchanges or by local governments as provided for under the Affordable Care Act. So taxpayers will not be asked to fund abortion services for state and local government employees. An exception will allow abortions to protect the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest.
— Requires that the state’s public school health education curriculum mention abortion as a preventable risk for later premature births.
— Lists on the state’s website resources for women to seek help in cases of poor prenatal diagnoses.
Two days after McCrory signed the legislation, North Carolina regulators shut down an abortion clinic in Asheville — the second in the state in less than a month.
Femcare Inc., the only abortion clinic in Asheville, had its license revoked July 31 by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services after regulators discovered dirty operating rooms and tattered anesthesia equipment during a recent surprise inspection. Inspectors also found untrained staff inadequately sterilizing surgical instruments, and even the sterilization machine itself was covered in “excessive dust,” located in a room with a leaky roof.
Azzie Conley, the head of the state agency that regulates abortion facilities, said the clinic’s violations presented “an imminent danger to the health, safety and welfare of the clients and that emergency action is required to protect the clients.”
The owner, Dr. Lorraine Cummings, said in a statement the clinic was being run according to standards “that were acceptable when we were last inspected” and “no patient infections” had occurred using those protocols. But “increasing regulations require us to make changes,” she said. “We expect to be in compliance soon with the required standards and will return to serving our patients as soon as possible.”
Guilfoyle is editor of the Catholic News Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C.