Late revisions to new North Carolina abortion restrictions scheduled to begin this weekend cleared the state Senate on Monday night, changes that if enacted could frustrate pending litigation seeking to stop the law’s enforcement.
The Senate voted overwhelmingly for a measure containing what the Republican supporters have called clarifying and technical changes to a law approved last month over Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto that in part will ban starting Saturday most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy. This will replace current rules that ban nearly all abortions after 20 weeks. The new law also adds exceptions to the 12-week ban.
The bill needs just on more affirmative vote from the House — scheduled for Tuesday — before it goes to Cooper’s desk. A federal judge has scheduled arguments Wednesday in Greensboro on legal motions by Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and a physician to stop much of the new abortion restrictions from taking effect well before any lawsuit trial.
The plaintiffs complained last week in a court filing that many provisions in the new abortion law are “riddled with inconsistencies, irrational requirements and unconstitutional restrictions.”
The clean-up language offered by the Senate and tacked on to a pending state health agency bill appears to address several provisions identified in the lawsuit. For example, it makes clear that medication abortions are permitted through 12 weeks just like procedural — often referred to as surgical — abortions. Another change seeks to clarify that it wouldn’t be illegal for someone to help a woman obtain an abortion outside of North Carolina in states where the procedure would remain lawful.
Democrats were vehemently opposed to the new abortion law, developed privately by Republican legislators before its passage, and they voted initially last week against the bill that contains the revisions. But all but two Democrats voted for the bill on Monday, when it received final Senate passage by a count of 45-2.
Sen. Sydney Batch, a Wake County Democrat, said during floor debate that two GOP amendments approved Monday night contained language suggested by Senate Democrats.
“And so while it still lacks clarity and doesn’t make all of the fixes necessary … it’s a commonsense amendment going in the right direction,” Batch said about one of the amendments.
Still, Senate Democrats spent Monday’s debate offering a dozen additional amendments, including those that would codify the right to an abortion in state law based on the Roe v. Wade decision and another court decision; declare the right to contraception in North Carolina; and keep private women’s health information. Republicans used parliamentary maneuvers to block all of them.