Visitors fill the gallery above the House of Representatives floor to hear debate on abortion bill SB 353
Visitors fill the gallery above the House of Representatives floor to hear debate on abortion bill SB 353 Photo credit: Holly Wall

North Carolina Health News will be liveblogging the debate on Senate Bill 353, a bill presented in committee Wednesday that would add restrictions to the provision of abortions in North Carolina to a bill originally about motorcycle safety.  To see updates, you can refresh your browser. Earlier posts will be at the bottom, more recent at the top.

Rose Hoban – 4:45

Tillis brought the bill to a vote, for second reading, the preliminary step to a final vote, second vote: 74-41.

Often on controversial bills, opponents will object to the third reading, pushing the final vote to the next time the chamber meets, but apparently, the agreement between the majority and the minority meant that legislators held the third vote right away. That count was the same: 74-41.

Now the bill goes to the Senate for concurrence, which will probably happen next week. That means there will be one more debate on this bill, in the Senate, next week.

Rose Hoban – 4:40

The majority has the last word, in the form of Ruth Samuelson.

Rep. Ruth Samuelson (R-Charlotte)
Rep. Ruth Samuelson (R-Charlotte)

“We’ve had a lengthy debate on a bill that otherwise would be only have been here for concurrence,” she said.

“To answer a question… why does this bill have all these parts in it. Well, that’s they way the Senate sent it to us. That’s why all of these different part of the bill, they’re put together,” Samuelson said.

She also addressed questions about why the House had not looked at abortion restrictions earlier in the session, initiating a study, and having extensive hearings.

“Frankly that was before the incident in Philadelphia, where a doctor up there is now going to jail,” Samuelson argued.

“And people said ‘gee, are these kinds of things happening in North Carolina?”

However, at least a dozen other states have already passed similar laws, even before the trial of Philadelphia abortion-provider Kermit Gosnell.

“The point that has caused me the most befuddlement, the issue of this being cost-prohibitive, you don’t raise safety because its cost prohibitive. Do we want someone to die in an abortion clinic in North Carolina before raising the standards?” Samuelson said.

“Women will still have the right to choose, but as a result of this, they will have the right to choose in a safe facility,” she concluded.

Rose Hoban – 4:28

Visitors fill the gallery above the House of Representatives floor to hear debate on abortion bill SB 353
Visitors fill the gallery above the House of Representatives floor to hear debate on abortion bill SB 353 Photo credit: Holly Wall

As the debate is drawing to a close, Representative Pat McElraft (R-Emerald Isle) got up to speak.

“I’ve listened about safe and healthy access, and that’s exactly what this bill is about,” McElrath said. “Poor women should not have any less access to clean conditions to sanitary conditions than those who can afford to go to that one facility in Asheville.”

McElrath started to read off a list of bacteria that can be passed along by unsterile equipment, when she was cut off by a Democratic member of the body.

“Are these not things that can happen anywhere,” asked Rep. Deb Fisher.

“The chair is not a medical professional,” Speaker Tillis said. “I assume from her comments that they are more likely”

McElrath focused back on the bill, talking about reports of clinic violations, incidents such as blood spatters on lamps and unsterilized equipment.

“Do these women not deserve… to go in there and not have to wonder if this equipment is sterile or not?” she asked.

Holly West – 4:20

Rep. Marvin Lucas (D-Spring Lake) said this issue should not be discussed in the General Assembly at all.

“We’ve bantered back and forth over an issue that the supreme court decided many years ago [in Roe v. Wade],” he said. “These sensitive issues are better settled in the confines of our homes and communities and not on this floor.”

Rep. Carla Cunningham (D-Charlotte) said close inspection of abortion clinics would negate the need for stricter regulations.

Rep. Jean Farmer Butterfield (D-Wilson) questioned whether there had been any deaths related to abortions in North Carolina in the past several years. Rep. Paul Stam (R-Apex) said he knew of one incident, but it’s hard to know how many incidents have actually occurred.

“You wouldn’t know because they go to other places to die,” he said.

Rose Hoban – 4:12

Rep. Jim Fulghum (R-Raleigh)
Rep. Jim Fulghum (R-Raleigh)

Rep. Jim Fulghum (R-Raleigh) is a retired neurosurgeon and the only physician in the House. He said there are 294 clinics and facilities total that can do abortions.

“These ab clinics are not inspected every year, they’re lucky to be inspected every 3-5 years for medical reasons,” Fulghum said.

But he made the point that the standards from 1994 are “actually pretty good.”

“Making regulationss is a waste of time unless you enforce them, they’re not being enforced on a regular basis, but we’re doing better than Pennsylvania did,” he said referring to the clinic of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortion provider whose clinic had not been inspected in 17 years. Gosnell was recently convicted on 3 counts of murder.

He was answered, in part, by Rep. McManus, who noted that few abortions are done in hospitals or in the places that are licensed to perform them.

“In the South, the percentage of OB/GYNs performing abortions dropped from 22 percent to 14 percent in 2008, the OB/GYNs were least likely to provider were in rural communities, Southern doctors accounted for just 8 percent.

Seventy percent of all abortions were provided in abortion clinics,” McManus read. “Only 4 percent in hospitals and 1 percent were provided in private physician’s offices.”

“It’s rare that it happens at a hospital unless medically necessitated. And only 17 percent of OB/GYNS do abortions and only 8 percent of OB/GYNs in North Carolina do abortions,” McManus said

Holly West – 4:06

Rep. Alma Adams (D-Greensboro) spoke again, saying these regulations will force clinics to close and send women to back alleys to get abortions.

“Eliminating safe abortions in this state will not reduce the need for abortions,” she said. “Do we want that blood on our hands? I do not.”

Rep. Becky Carney (D-Charlotte) said she agrees that regulations may need to be updated, but the other provisions in the bill, many of which were voted on in previous bills, are unnecessary.

“I’m conflicted as to why we needed to add those into a new bill,” she said. “Let’s take those standards and modernize them in a bipartisan way.”

Rose Hoban – 3:42

Rep Deb McManus (D-Siler City) asked a number of clarifying questions about the bill, and then proceeded to talk about her feelings on the bill.

Rep. Deb McManus (D-Siler City)
Rep. Deb McManus (D-Siler City)

“in 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Roe v Wade. After that, pregnancy related deaths due to complications from unsafe abortions ended in the U.S. whereas prior to that there a lot of hospitalizations.

Abortion is one of the safest, and fewer than 1/2 of 1 percent of women experience complications is about 1/10th of that of childbirth, McManus quoted from a report authored by UNC Chapel Hill faculty member David Grimes.

McManus also took issue with some of the possible citations mentioned by Republicans in their arguments levied about abortion clinics.  McManus’ husband runs a family practice clinic.

“One of the citations on one of his inspections was that he had to have Benedryl. He had generic in the clinic, and had to go buy name brand,” she said.

McManus also said her family had had an unplanned pregnancy in her extended family, the girlfriend of her nephew.

“They had not been dating that long, he was in school, and my brother called to tell me. He said, ‘I don’t know what they were going to do, I can’t believe this happened, they said they were using birth control.’”

Her brother also said “I never thought I’d wish someone would have an abortion, but I wish that’s what she’d do right now, because I’m afraid that if they have this baby, he won’t finish school.”

She said the pair ended up having the baby, the girlfriend now lives with McManus’ brother,

“She made the right choice for her, but she had the option and the availability.,” McManus said, asking the body to slow down and come back.

“It’s such a personal decision to everybody and I think we should leave that up to individuals”

Holly West 3:29

Rep. Susi Hamilton (D-Wilmington) said this bill is a threat to patient privacy.

“This bill requires the court to make the decision regarding a woman’s private healthcare,” she said. “It seems to me like this flies in the fact of our HIPPA laws.”

Rep. Marilyn Avila (R-Raleigh), who supports the bill, said strict requirements should be in place for all medical facilities, including abortion clinics.

She recounted a problem with her younger sister when she was born, and needed blood transfusions because of rH factor issues, one of the problems cited at a clinic in Durham closed last week.

“We have got to tighten up and hold these kind of people accountable,” she said.

Rose Hoban – 3:19

“There are two reasons I really need to speak,” said Rep. Beverly Earle (D-Charlotte). “One is that I ride a motorcycle, and I want to let my motorcycle buddies know that when I vote against this, I’m not against their safety on the highways.”

Rep. Beverly Earle (D-Charlotte)
Rep. Beverly Earle (D-Charlotte)

She said the bill has “the same language that closes facilities and of course, we’re hearing some of the same safety rhetoric that we heard in committee.”

“To me this is just another back door way of attacking Roe v Wade.  Abortion is legal in North Carolina and in this country, but if you continue to chip away at the infrastructure, you basically limit the choices that women have,” Earle said.

“This is not about safety issues, or health issue for women, because when you start closing these facilities,” she said. “Well that’s gonna drive women to go to these back room places that existed before we had these facilities that came into existence”

Earle maintained that the legislature needed to rethink the bill.

“We need to look at every office that does a surgical procedure and putting them under the same kinds of guidelines and regulations,” including podiatry offices, dental offices, and other offices where out patient surgery occurs.

Holly West – 3:18

Rep. Joe Sam Queen (D-Waynesville) said all medical facilities, including abortion clinics, have room for improvement. But, he said, bills like this are not the way to go about it and will not improve women’s safety.

“What we are doing here is using government power to reduce access to quality care,” he said. “Access to quality care is what creates safety.”

Holly West – 3:13

Rep. Marcus Brandon (D-High Point) said legislators’ claims that this is about women’s safety is not in line with their previous decisions on women’s health, especially the denial of Medicaid expansion in the state.

“We can’t just come up today and care about it,” he said.

Rep. Michele Presnell (R-Burnsville) said this bill is necessary because women who seek abortions don’t think of the safety problems associated with abortion clinics.

“They’re not going to see the blood on the table with the surgical instruments that have not been sterilized,” he said.

Rose Hoban – 3:09

Carla Cunningham (D-Charlotte), a nurse, said, “As a health care provider and a member of the ANA I believe that the health care client has the right to privacy and the right to make decisions based on full information and without coercion.”

She said that the need for abortion was a symptom of larger problems that include lack of access to family planning, domestic violence, sexually transmitted diseases and inadequate child care.

As Cunningham argued that if lawmakers wanted to help women, they’d support an equal pay bill and reinstate unemployment insurance, Speaker of the House Thom Tillis cut her off as being off topic.

“This is a full view issue, one thing always affects another,” Cunningham responded.

The women of North Carolina are intelligent, strong and capable of making these vital decisions for themselves,” Cunningham concluded. “We should allow them to make their own life decisions for themselves.”

Rose Hoban – 3:00

Rep. Sarah Stevens said members of the Republican caucus got their information about problems in abortion clinics from the DHHS.

“There have been 205 citations issued against these clinics in the last 10 years, a Preferred Women’s Clinic in Raleigh had 33, a Preferred Women’s in Charlotte had 40+ citations. A Woman’s Choice in Greensboro since 2001 had 5 complaints,” Stevens said

Stevens did not address how many citations are given to hospitals, and other clinics as a point of comparison.

“I’m challenged to see how many of you have read these rules, these rules we’re set up in 1974 and have not been revised in 40 years?” Stevens asked.

And she read from some complaints made about care in clinics.

“These complaints were things such as breaking open a vial of IV medicine for four patients and giving it to multiple patients. They found dirty unsterilized equipment, they found dried blood on the lamps that were used to examine these women.”

The National Abortion Federation has standards that go on for 50 pages that are a bare minimum of what you should do,” she said, comparing those to about 11 pages of regulations from North Carolina.

Holly West – 2:55

Rep Nathan Baskerville (D-Henderson)
Rep Nathan Baskerville (D-Henderson)

Rep. Nathan Baskerville (D-Henderson) said he thinks local governments should be able to decide if they want to include abortion coverage in their health insurance.

“This bill, in my opinion, is yet another power grab by this Republican party,” he said. “How does that section improve individual freedoms?”

Baskerville also said the bill gives too much authority to the Department of Health and Human Services. He said DHHS secretary Aldona Wos told legislators her department couldn’t accommodate the responsibility put on it.

“This legislature is forcing the department to do the dirty work for this sweeping right wing agenda,” he said.

Baskerville also said the bill would dissuade businesses from coming to North Carolina.

Rose Hoban – 2:41

Rep Susan Fisher (D-Asheville)
Rep Susan Fisher (D-Asheville)

Rep. Susan Fisher (D-Asheville) pointed out that the only remaining abortion clinic in the state that could meet updated rules is in Asheville. She criticized the process of the bill.

“Were there no lessons learned from last week, a bill with all the same ingredients, still done in a rush, still no stakeholder or HHS input until the last minutes, still tells physicians how to do their jobs, still interferes with local government decision-making and all of this happens with no public notice,” Fisher asked.

“We’ve all been looking at Texas lately, but have we looked at Maryland, where they tightened their oversight of abortion clinics, but they just came into effect this year?” Fisher asked.

“North Carolina has had regulations since 1994, way before now,” Fisher said. She said the process in Maryland brought all parties to the table, from Planned Parenthood to people who oppose abortion.

“This is what I came here to do, to work together,”

Holly West – 2:35

Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Fayetteville)
Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Fayetteville)

Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Fayetteville) called the bill an “effective elimination of meaningful choice in this state.” He said the bill places an undue burden on women seeking abortions, making it unconstitutional under the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey.

Glazier said the language in the bill is vague, and there is no evidence to support its necessity.

“No testimony, no studies, no evidence of any kind,” he said. “The arrogance of the House, determined to impose its ideological will, is breathtaking.”

Rose Hoban – 2:15 pm

Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D-Wilson)
Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D-Wilson)

Rep Jean Farmer-Butterfield (D-Wilson) called the bill “another ploy to control women’s abortion rights by imposing excessive regulation.”

“The requirement of ambulatory surgery centers has been eliminated but instead the authority has been placed with DHHS to create standards, this could still close clinics in North Carolina depending on what DHHS decides to do.”

Farmer-Butterfield also pointed out SB 353 would eliminate insurance coverage and eliminates funding in other health plans, including county and city employees plans,

“This is an attempt to limit access for abortions,” she said.

“I don’t have a problem with the rules being updated, but they don’t need to lead to fewer people having abortions. In the 11 years that I’ve been here, why has no one in DHHS even talked about the need to update these rules?”

Holly West – 2:12 pm

Rep Alma Adams (D-Greensboro)
Rep Alma Adams (D-Greensboro)

Rep. Alma Adams (D-Greensboro) challenged the way the bill was brought forth.

“As contentious and sensitive as this bill is, we deliberately put up all kinds of barriers to keep the public out,” she said. “We’ve made a mockery of women’s health and safety.”

Adams said legislators took no time to consult women’s health professionals or other stakeholders, and at times, brandished a wire hanger as she warned that women would be forced back into “back alleys and dark rooms” when they wanted an abortion.

Adams’ comments were interrupted by two of her colleagues, who felt her she was out of order.

Rose Hoban – 2:00 pm

Rep. Jacqueline Schaeffer (R-Charlotte)
Rep. Jacqueline Schaeffer (R-Charlotte)

Rep Jacqueline Schaeffer (R-Charlotte) a bill sponsor, said she sees a pattern of clinics repeatedly having problems.

“Many have said that since the clinic were shut down, that means the regulations are working, but that’s not the case. I have copies of complaints that have been filed against clinics in the last decade.  They’re coming against the same abortion clinics, time and again,” she said.

Scheaffer said she had evidence that a number of clinics, including the Baker clinic closed in Durham last week and a clinic in Charlotte  have had repeated problems.

“We have this recurring theme, there’s  a blatant disregard for procedure,” Schaeffer said.

She also referenced a “55 page set of guidelines” promulgated by the National Abortion Federation, an organization that represents private abortion providers, and compared that to the “11 pages of guidelines [DHHS] has for our abortion clinics.”

Holly West – 1:51

The General Assembly is discussing an abortion bill that will put tighter restrictions on abortion – and increase safety for motorcycle riders.

The abortion language in the bill was unexpectedly added to a motorcycle safety bill yesterday.

The House of Representatives chamber gallery is filled with Planned Parenthood advocates who oppose the bill.

“This whole ruse about women’s safety and concerns, it’s just, as Joe Biden would say ‘malarky,’” said Deborah Everett, who worked as an ultrasound technologist for 30 years.

Planned Parenthood supporter Becky Cary said abortion is not as dangerous as legislators seem to think.

“Abortion is already one of the safest medical procedures there is,” she said. “This is not about the safety of the women; this is about reducing and restricting abortion.”

Rose Hoban – 1:42 pm

Rep. Marilyn Avila (R-Raleigh)
Rep. Marilyn Avila (R-Raleigh)

Rep. Marilyn Avila (R-Raleigh)  said she’s conflicted.  “As Christian, a mother and a woman, I’m opposed to abortion,  I believe that birth begin at conception, that life is holy and should be honored. But as a legislator, I’m bound to support and enforce the laws of the land” which include Roe v Wade.

“What i am able to do as a state legislator is to make sure and certain that every woman who makes that horrible decision … is guaranteed by the state of North Carolina that she’s walking into the safest and most up-to-date facility.”

Avila said it “appalls me that for 19 years we have not looked at and updated the standards”

Rose Hoban – 1:34 pm

Rep Ruth Samuelson (R-Charlotte) introducing the bill. This happens for every bill. Samuelson said she will focus on the new language in the bill, which previously was a bill about motorcycle safety.

Samuelson addressed the process by which this bill came to the floor.

“Over session we have passed a number of bills… the Senate took those pieces, put them together, and the normal reaction would be to concur…  if we had chosen to concur, the only debate would have been here on the house floor. If we’d chosen not to concur, we would appoint small conference committee and only public debate would be on this floor one time.”

Samuelson pointed out that there was a committee meeting with public comment on Tuesday, and another hearing on the bill yesterday, when it was changed to SB 353.

She acknowledges the debate came up fast.

“By doing it this way, … we allowed public debate.”

Rose Hoban – 1:14 pm

Twitter user Elizabeth Hundley Finley (@lizziefin) who works at the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina compiled some information on abortion in North Carolina.

This chart details what proportion of pregnancies end in abortion.

Data compiled by Elizabeth Hundley Finn, Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina.
Data compiled by Elizabeth Hundley Finn, Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina.

Rose Hoban – 12:51

House leadership has decided to push SB 353 to the end of the calendar, and the body will be working through 4-6 other bills in the meantime.

Some observers on twitter have asked if lawmakers will take a lunch break. They can, but it’s not likely. You may hear that “Rule 12 D” has been suspended, that’s the rule that forbids members from eating on the floor. But people in the gallery can’t eat.

According to News 14 reporter Loretta Boniti, her photographers have shot footage of legislators eating. So, lawmakers are likely to be there for the duration.

Rose Hoban – 12:10 pm

In the debate over HB 695 last week in the Senate, Lt. Governor Jim Forrest, who manages the Senate, repeatedly chided visitors in the gallery for talking, shouting, waving their hands or holding up signs.

Today, some in the gallery are taking a new tactic to express themselves. No word yet on whether they’ll be asked to leave.


They may be there for a long time. The House is currently debating a bill to create an airport authority for Charlotte-Douglas Airport, and a controversial regulatory reform bill is also scheduled to be heard before SB 353 comes up.

Rose Hoban – 12:05 pm

Both supporters and opponents of SB 353 are in the visitor’s gallery of the NC House of Representatives and milling around outside the gallery windows.

The gallery overlooking the House of Representatives is full of supporters of SB 353, wearing baby blue and opponents, wearing pink. And many are in the hallway outside, waiting to get in, or listening on their cellphones.
The gallery overlooking the House of Representatives is full of supporters of SB 353, wearing baby blue and opponents, wearing pink. And many are in the hallway outside, waiting to get in, or listening on their cellphones. Photo credit: Rose Hoban
One view of the gallery from the House floor, opponents of SB353 wearing pink, supporters in baby blue.
One view of the gallery from the House floor, opponents of SB353 wearing pink, supporters in baby blue. Photo credit: Rose Hoban

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Rose Hoban is the founder and editor of NC Health News, as well as being the state government reporter. Hoban has been a registered nurse since 1992, but transitioned to journalism after earning degrees...

2 replies on “LIVEBLOG: House Debate on Abortion Bill SB 353”

  1. Great live blogging from Rose Hoban and Holly West. Thanks for keeping us informed.

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