N.C. Senate passes “Born-Alive” abortion bill in party-line vote

The N.C. Senate passed a new version of legislation Tuesday that would require doctors to attempt to save the life of any child born as the result of a failed abortion.

Senate Bill 405, the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” is a slightly amended version of a measure vetoed in 2019 by Gov. Roy Cooper. It is expected to pass in the state House and again face a veto Republicans in the General Assembly do not have the votes to overturn.

In tense and sometime emotional debate on the Senate floor Tuesday, Republican Senators told anecdotal stories of infants born after attempted abortions left to die and read testimony from people who said they themselves survived failed abortions.

Democrats said the testimony of survivors does not prove that there is an epidemic of infants being born alive and left to die by uncaring doctors and nurses. Rather, it strengthens the argument that in the rare cases in which children survive failed abortions, medical professionals are already doing their duty to care for infants in their charge.

Sen. Natalie Murdock (D-Durham)

“There are already state and federal laws that protect newborns,” said Sen. Natalie Murdock (D-Durham). “Further, physicians are obligated by medical ethics and licensing regulations to provide appropriate medical treatment just as they are for all types of people. Failure to do so in the manner suggested by this bill could result in loss of credentials, supervision, revocation of their medical license, a malpractice lawsuit and even criminal charges.”

Murdock, whose mother was a pediatric nurse, said Republicans who oppose abortion are attempting to involve themselves in the difficult and complex decisions about care and viability that should be the province of the families and doctors.

Democrats called the bill a stealth challenge to the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which established a right to legal abortion. It further stigmatizes the practice, they said, and demonizes doctors who perform the procedure – sometimes in circumstances where the survival of the child is not possible.

Republican Senators said that’s not true, denying that the bill has anything to do with attempts to limit access to legal abortion or overturn Roe v. Wade.

“My entire adult life, whenever I hear folks talk about abortion, the first thing I always hear is ‘my body, my choice,'” said Sen. Todd Johnson (R-Union). “Hadn’t heard much about that in the last year when we’ve been talking about mask mandates and vaccine mandates, but it’s still something I’ve heard my entire life. Let’s be clear: we’re not talking about abortion. We’re talking about a child that is completely separate from the body of its mother. So that begs this one question I’d like each one of you to think about. If somebody has an answer for me, I’d love to have it. When do human rights begin? How old do you have to be to have human rights? Is it five minutes? Is it five months? Is it five years? A child  that is separated from its mother has rights immediately. And all this bill does is mandates that a doctor take care of a living human being.”

Sen. Todd Johnson (R-Union)

But legal experts say a variety of laws already exist to protect infants born under these conditions. They range from the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the U.S. Constitution and the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) to the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act passed by Congress in 2002.

Debate on the legislation this week has been tinged with the language of the culture war over legal abortion in America that has raged for decades. Proponents of the bill have cast it in religious and political terms, with Senators repeatedly referring to the “so-called right to abortion” during debate and political allies arguing bills like S405 are necessary precisely because the courts have rejected Republican efforts to further limit access.

“This bill is even more important now that our 20-week limit on abortion has been challenged in court by Planned Parenthood and the ACLU,” said Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the NC Values Coalition, in a Tuesday committee meeting on the bill. “Because of that lawsuit abortions can be performed up to birth because the abortionist is allowed to determine when the baby is viable under the lower court’s ruling. Unless the lower court’s ruling is overturned, more babies will be born alive during abortions in North Carolina.”

Susanna Birdsong, North Carolina Director of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood’s South Atlantic region, called the bill “an attack on medical providers, particularly doctors who provide care to patients experiencing complex pregnancies.”

“This bill is a complete waste of time and taxpayer resources and another distraction from the fact that state lawmakers have not prioritized legislation that would expand access to health care for low-income North Carolinians, improve maternal mortality in the state, or provide workplace accommodations for people who are pregnant,” she said in a Wednesday statement.

The bill passed the Senate on a party-line vote, 28-21. It now heads to the House, where another party-line vote is expected.

The “Born-Alive” bill is one of two abortion-related bills in play this legislative session.

The other, House Bill 453, would prohibit a doctor from performing an abortion if a pregnant woman wants one due to the race of the fetus or the detection of Down syndrome during pregnancy.

“Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act” advances, setting up veto fight

An abortion-related bill is on its way to the Senate floor this week — and likely headed for a veto.

Senate Bill 405, the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” was reported favorably out of the Senate Rules committee Monday night. Under the measure, doctors who fail to provide care for an infant born after a failed abortion could be charged with a misdemeanor and face civil penalties. Governor Roy Cooper vetoed a nearly identical bill of the same name in 2019. Republicans tried to overturn that veto, but didn’t have the votes. They still don’t have enough votes to do so, without support from Democrats.

Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth), primary sponsor of the bill, said this version of the bill lowers the criminal penalty from a felony to a Class I misdemeanor.

The bill’s sponsors said it is not about abortion but about protecting infants after they are born, despite the intention to abort a pregnancy.

“This is all about saving an infant, an innocent life that has been delivered outside of the mother’s body, no longer a part of the mother’s body,” Krawiec said. “It is by all definitions a living, breathing human – a citizen of America, of North Carolina.”

Krawiec shared stories she had been told about infants born after failed abortions left in empty rooms to die or tossed into medical waste bins.

“This is not humane,” Krawiec said.

 

Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth)


But legal experts say a variety of laws already exist to protect infants born under these conditions. They range from the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the U.S. Constitution and the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) to the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act passed by Congress in 2002.

Gov. Cooper also pointed to these protections in his statement on his veto of the similar 2019 bill.

“Laws already protect newborn babies and this bill is an unnecessary interference between doctors and their patients,” Cooper wrote.

Opponents of the current bill say its real goal is to further stigmatize legal abortion and promote the idea that medical professionals who perform abortions are willing to mistreat and kill infants who are born when abortions fail.

“The claims of this bill are blatantly false and are being pushed by anti-abortion activists in order to scare people and stigmatize reproductive health care,” said Susanna Birdsong, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood’s South Atlantic region. “Because the bill assesses criminal penalties to providers, the impact of the bill will be to intimidate providers from providing the care that their patients need.” Read more

Citizens sue to remove Iredell County Confederate Monument

The Confederate Monument outside the historic Iredell County Courthouse.

A coalition of religious leaders, activists and branches of the NAACP filed suit in Iredell County Tuesday, seeking to remove the Confederate monument in front of the historic county courthouse in Statesville.

The Iredell County Commissioners voted to remove the monument in March, but then reconsidered, prompting the lawsuit.

“A glorified symbol of White Supremacy stands guard over the Iredell County Government Center, a place where the government is supposed to serve all of Iredell County’s residents,” said Rev. Curtis Johnson, President of the South Iredell NAACP, in a statement on the suit Tuesday. “That is totally unacceptable, as the Commissioners recognized in their March Resolution. The Monument must go . . . peacefully, but it must go. The time is long overdue.”

Plaintiffs in the suit include  the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, the NAACP’s  Statesville  and South Iredell Branches and the Iredell Clergy for Healing and Justice, an alliance of Iredell County religious leaders. The suit argues that the statue threatens public safety and is in violation of the North Carolina constitution.

Another of the plaintiffs is Rev Reverend Robert Wright Lee IV, a white resident of Statesville who is a direct descendant of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. In a Tuesday statement Lee said the monument is a celebration of white supremacy and racism of which he is embarrassed.

“It’s always hard to bring people to Statesville and then have to take them to the restaurants downtown that are right in view of the statue,” Lee said in the statment. “Especially if they are people of color, especially if they’re familiar with the history.”

Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, President of the State Conference of the NAACP said removing these monuments across the state is a necessary part of fighting racism in our communities.

“These monuments are forces of intimidation and magnets for extremists,” Spearman said in a Tuesday statement. “Iredell County’s monument is a powder keg, and it must be removed so that the County can move forward united, prosperous, and peaceful.”

The nationwide movement to remove Confederate statues picked up momentum after the murder of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin, the former police officer recently convicted for the the crime.  In North Carolina, activists had already been struggling for decades to have them legally removed from courthouses, parks and university campuses.

In 2017, protesters toppled a Confederate monument in front of the old Durham County Courthouse after their efforts to have the statue legally removed were stymied by the GOP-dominated legislature passing a law to protect such statues. A year later, protesters pulled down the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill.

Shortly thereafter, the State Historical Commission decided not to remove the three Confederate monuments on the Capitol grounds. The commissioners said at the time that they felt constrained by a 2015 monuments law to keep the statues in place.

In 2019, the City of Winston Salem succeeded in legally removing a Confederate monument from the site of a former courthouse downtown after years of legal struggles.

In June of last year, protesters tore down two bronze soldier statues from the 75-foot North Carolina Confederate monument at the State Capitol in downtown Raleigh, hanging one by its neck from a street light.

Gov. Roy Cooper ordered the remainder of the monument dismantled and removed for public safety, along with the Henry Lewis Wyatt and North Carolina Women of the Confederacy monuments, the two other Confederate statues on the Capitol grounds.

In November of last year, residents of Gaston County have filed a suit in state court to remove the towering “Confederate Heroes” monument in front of the county court house in Gastonia.

The Iredell County monument, like so many across the South, was financed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and erected in 1906. As Policy Watch has reported, the group helped pay for and erect such statues not in the direct aftermath of the Civil War but decades later in a wave of white supremacist sentiment that included a series of laws targeting and disenfranchising Black citizens.

Like many Confederate monuments, those who erected the Iredell statue were explicit in their racism and wish to preserve the system of slavery. During the dedication ceremony, Judge W.D. Turner said “the cause for which they [the South] fought was not lost.”

“This Monument in the heart of Statesville has continued to cause anguish in the lives of people of color and moral discomfort to many more, regardless of race and creed,” said Rev. Steve Shoemaker in a statement Tuesday for the group Iredell Clergy for Healing and Justice.  “Our faith traditions compel us ‘to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God,’ and ‘to love our neighbor as ourselves.’ Such neighborly love leads us to our support of the relocation of the Confederate monument.”

One of the suit’s plaintiffs, Christopher A. “Skip” McCall, is a Black veteran who recalled returning from his service in the war in Vietnam to be faced with the statue still standing in his hometown.

“I  almost broke down and cried,” McCall said in a statement Tuesday. “I had put my life on the line and had sacrificed to go fight for my country, and then when I come back home that statue is still there representing a concept, thought, and desire to keep my people in slavery.”

Read the full lawsuit here.

Bill with new abortion restrictions clears first legislative hurdle

A bill that would further limit legal access to abortion in the state took its first step toward becoming law Tuesday, with a favorable vote in the N.C. House Health Committee.

House Bill 453 would prohibit a doctor from performing an abortion if a pregnant woman wants one due to the race of the fetus or the detection of Down syndrome during pregnancy.

Republican lawmakers argue the law is necessary to prevent doctors from pressuring pregnant women to get abortions and to prevent women aborting children due to race or genetic profiling, which they compare to eugenics.

“As a child psychiatrist, a physician who has spent my life defending the most vulnerable,” said Rep. Kristin Baker (R-Cabarrus), co-chair of the Health committee. “I think we as a society will be judged by whether or not we speak for those who cannot or may not be able to speak for themselves,”

Rep. Kristin Baker (R-Cabarrus)

But Democratic lawmakers and doctors on hand for Tuesday’s hearing said the bill describes a problem that doesn’t exist and aims to place further restrictions on legal abortion in a state that already has too many.

“I am concerned about my physician colleagues’ ethics being called into question,”  said Rep. Gale Adock (D-Wake). “That they are being coerced, that we need a law to help them be ethical in the care of their patients.”

Having spent 45 years as a registered nurse, Adcock said, she believes the narrative of women being pressured into abortion by unethical medical professionals is simply untrue.

Representatives from the North Carolina Medical Society and North Carolina Obstetrical & Gynecological Society were on hand at Tuesday’s hearing, opposing the bill.

“Abortion is a personal decision between a pregnant person and their doctor,” said Dr. Jonas Swartz, an OBGYN at the Duke Gynecology Clinic. “The state should refrain from imposing on the patient’s decision. I’ve never had a patient request an abortion for the reason of race or suggest it was racially motivated. People choose abortion for many reasons. As a provider, I want to provide safe, nonjudgemental and high quality care.”


The bill would make it harder to have open and honest conversations with patients, Swartz said. Doctors work with families to make difficult decisions about whether to abort a pregnancy because it threatens the life of the mother and various other medical reasons, he said. It is difficult enough to support patients making those hard choices without the additional stigma that would come from such a law, he said.

Several families of children with Down syndrome spoke at Tuesday’s committee meeting. But while they suggested that women and doctors decide to abort pregnancies because of Down syndrome, none testified to their own experience having been coerced to do so.

Dr. Wing Ng, a doctor of physical medicine and rehabilitation with UNC Health and father of Jaden, a daughter with with Down syndrome, said no doctor should participate in aborting a fetus because of Down syndrome.

“We cannot place the value of one life over another because of disability,” Ng said.  “That is discrimination.”

“The euphemistic notion of ‘women’s choice’ and ‘reproductive health’ hide the ugly truth that this is the killing of innocent lives, lives that have been deemed unworthy of life,” Ng said. “And harkens back to the days of the eugenics movement. Babies with Down syndrome have every right to exist, as God intended. I am pleading to you today that they be afforded that fighting chance to live and to succeed, just as my Jaden did.”

The comments of several who spoke in favor of the bill were anti-abortion in general and tinged with religious language.  One woman testified she once believed God had punished her for an abortion early in her life by giving her a Down syndrome child when later gave birth. She later revised her thinking, she said, and wants to defeat the stigma around Down syndrome and be sure parents don’t abort children because of it.

Maureen Wallace, the mother of a young son with Down syndrome, said the bill does not align with her experience with doctors and focusing on abortion is not the most effective way to combat stigma.

“At no point did a physician coerce us in any way,” Wallace said of her family’s experience.

Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange)


The legislature should focus state energy and money on funding research into and widely publicizing good medical information about Down syndrome, Wallace said. Services and inclusion in society for those with Down syndrome are where the focus should be, Wallace said — not on abortion, with Down syndrome as a Trojan horse.

“Please, do not use Down syndrome as an excuse to further political agendas,” Wallace said. “If you want to prevent abortions of babies with Down syndrome, focus on the true needs here. The solution is education and advocacy.”

The current bill would only have a chilling effect on parents who are already facing difficult decisions about how to handle a pregnancy, Wallace said.

After about an hour of discussion and public comment, the committee reported the bill favorably out of committee 17-9. The bill’s next step is the Judiciary committee.

If the bill finds its way to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk, it may face a veto. Republicans no longer have the numbers to overturn a veto without Democratic support. Finding that support for new abortion restrictions may be difficult, if Tuesday’s committee discussion is any indication. As is the case with most legislation dealing with abortion, the bill’s proponents and opponents appear to be lining up along partisan lines.

“I find this bill discriminatory against pregnant women,” said Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange). “I cannot imagine anything more threatening than to have someone take control of my body.”

NARAL Pro -Choice North Carolina released a statement Tuesday condemning the bill and the NC Values Coalition released a statement praising it.

““The North Carolina Values Coalition is backing this bill because every child should have the chance to live a full, happy life. We hope that North Carolina will join the leading edge of states enacting protections against the discrimination of unborn children,” said Tami Fitzgerald, Executive Director of the NC Values Coalition, in a statement.

“HB453 is another attempt to politicize abortion care, falsely equating individuals’ personal decisions with our state and country’s long and ugly history of eugenics and racist reproductive coercion,” NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina said in its written statement. “Labeling a patient’s personal choice to have an abortion as ‘eugenics’ is intentionally inflammatory, particularly as we hear stories about immigrants, people who are incarcerated, and people with disabilities who are still being targeted for involuntary sterilization around the U.S. to this day. ”

“The bill proposed by the North Carolina legislature banning abortion based on the reason behind a person’s decision is part of a larger campaign in the state to stigmatize abortion care and create as many barriers as possible,” said Dr. Jamila Perritt, OBGYN and President & CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health. “Abortion is healthcare. Once someone decides to have an abortion, they should be able to access that care in a timely fashion with the support that they need. This means being free from judgement, free from barriers, and free from stigma. As an OB/GYN and provider of abortion care, I urge North Carolina legislators to support the comprehensive health care needs of their constituents, and that means ensuring access to abortion care.”

 

Bill to exclude transgender women from sports dead this legislative session

A bill to exclude transgender women from women’s sports won’t move forward this legislative session, according to N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland).

The bill simply isn’t needed as there has been no verifiable problem with transgender women playing sports in North Carolina, Moore told the Associated Press Thursday.

“The House will not be taking up that bill,” Moore told The Associated Press. “We’ve spoken with the bill sponsors and others and simply believe that there’s not a need to take it up at this time.”

The announcement follows word last week from the office of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) that a bill to bar gender-affirming treatment for transgender youth would not move forward as it did not have the votes to overcome a veto from Gov. Roy Cooper.

Both bills faced pressure from state and national sports organizations, including the NCAA, which has itself been feeling pressure to pull tournaments from states that have already passed such bills. States that have passed such bills have already seen legal challenges.

Moore denied to the AP that the announcement of Apple’s new East Coast campus coming to the state, and bringing 3,000 jobs, was related. But Gov. Roy Cooper said the company told him the partial repeal of HB2, which excluded LGBTQ people from non-discrimination laws, helped with the company’d decision.

On Thursday Moore told the News & Observer that the the legislature shouldn’t go looking for volatile social issues to get into.

“We had no examples of where this is really a problem and I’m a believer that you shouldn’t pass legislation unless there’s a problem you’re trying to address,” Moore told the paper. “I mean, obviously, these things can spin up and get really controversial and all of that so you know before you go down that road, there needs to be, I would say, an articulated problem.”