RALEIGH (AP) — Abortion-rights advocates and political observers say a series of measures in the North Carolina General Assembly adding new restrictions for the procedure could set up the first test of wills between the GOP majority in the legislature and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.
McCrory said in the final debate of his 2012 gubernatorial campaign that he wouldn't sign new abortion regulations, but the Republican-controlled legislature has followed up new restrictions in 2011 with a series of measures this year, most recently a bill to broaden protections for medical professionals who refuse to participate in an abortion.
"It could be the governor's first time he has to decide to pull out the veto pen, and I think a lot of people are reminding him of his statement in the third debate," said David McLennan, a political science professor at William Peace University.
With his own ambitions of privatizing Medicare administration and some economic development functions, that might not be the fight McCrory wants, McLennan added.
Two years ago, lawmakers enacted new restrictions mandating wait periods, counseling and ultrasounds for women considering abortions. This session, they've presented a bill that would require doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, which can be difficult to obtain.
One recent bill would establish civil penalties for doctors who knowingly perform abortions in cases in which the child's sex is the driving factor. Another would broaden so-called protections of conscience and exempt businesses from providing contraception coverage to employees, which its sponsor acknowledges contradicts federal law.
The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League of North Carolina has collected thousands of signatures across the state to encourage McCrory to stand by his past statements, said Suzanne Buckley, the group's director. Buckley said she views the governor as the last check of moderation against a more socially conservative legislature that picked up even larger majorities in 2012.
"He made a very clear campaign promise not to support any new restrictions on access to safe abortion, and that's something we're going to hold him to," she said.
Kim Genardo, McCrory's communications director, wouldn't say what McCrory might do regarding abortion measures.
"The governor has signed 24 bills into law dealing with issues such as education and safety," Genardo said. "Nothing has landed on his desk concerning abortion-related measures. When and if that happens, he will make the decision at that time."
Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer, R-Mecklenburg and lead sponsor of the bill to broaden protections for health care workers, acknowledged that state and federal law already extends to most in the medical field, but her bill would include pharmacists and any other licensed medical professionals.
"We need those protections to bolster that so we're really furthering what's already in our federal and state constitutions and the law," she said.
The measure in her bill exempting private businesses and non-profits from providing contraception coverage violates the federal Affordable Care Act and is expected by many legal experts to be settled in the U.S Supreme Court, but Schaffer said she wanted to ready specific protections anyway.
Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, said the bill instead ensures that North Carolina will add to the more than 50 existing lawsuits nationwide, costing taxpayers money on a policy that will contribute to more abortions by limiting access to contraception.
"If we prepared for (pregnancy) upfront, families would be able to plan carefully, and each child would be treasured and cared for as a child that will thrive," she said.
Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg and lead sponsor of the bill to ban sex-selective abortions, said that polling shows the public is behind her position and that her legislation helps combat gender bias.
"There are other states that have this provision, and we thought it was something we could add that doesn't limit a woman's access to abortion at all," she said.
The bill adds no specific enforcement measure or signed affidavits, which Buckley said exposes abortion doctors to further risk and ultimately restricts access. Besides that, she said, gender bias is better addressed with Democratic bills addressing equal pay and family leave policies.
"Gender bias and sex discrimination are legitimate concerns that we take very seriously, but this bill doesn't do anything to address the underlying causes of that bias," Buckley said.