News

As N.C. abortion law veto stands, a look at national views on the issue and its future

Yesterday, North Carolina narrowly avoided becoming one of the states passing a wave of restrictive new laws related to abortion that seem likely to lead to a Supreme Court showdown on the issue.

Last week, before Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto was sustained, Gallup released its annual poll on the moral acceptability of a number of American social issues.

On abortion, 50 percent of those surveyed said they find it morally unacceptable while 42 percent said they found it morally acceptable.

 

Those numbers have shifted only slightly over the last year, with a 2018 Gallup poll finding 48 percent of respondents answering that abortion is morally unacceptable and 43 percent saying it is morally acceptable.

But moral acceptability does not seem to completely drive opinions as to whether abortion should be legal in the U.S. — or whether the U.S. Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade.

Last year’s gallup poll also found that about 48 percent of Americans identify as “pro-choice” and the same percentage identify as “pro-life.”

The question of when and under what circumstances abortion should be legal also leads to complicating diversions of opinion.

According to Gallup:

The two sides also diverge when it comes to the legality of first-trimester abortions. Nine in 10 pro-choice Americans say abortion should generally be legal in the first three months of pregnancy, while six in 10 pro-life Americans believe it should be illegal.

At the same time, there are two important areas of consensus that have typically been respected in U.S. abortion laws. One involves protecting abortion rights when pregnancy endangers a woman’s life. The other is keeping abortion legal when pregnancy is caused by rape or incest.

According to Gallup’s 2018 abortion survey, not only do most Americans as a whole favor these protections, but so do majorities of pro-life Americans — 71% for the endangered woman’s life exception and 57% for cases of rape or incest. Support for these allowances is nearly universal among pro-choice Americans.

Gallup also offered a historical perspective on shifting views: Read more

News

Colorado becomes 18th state to outlaw “conversion therapy” as North Carolina’s bill goes unheard

Last week Colorado became the 18th U.S. state to outlaw so-called “conversion therapy” — a scientifically discredited practice that attempts to “cure” people of being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

Gov. Jared Polis, Colorado’s openly gay governor, also signed a bill that will make it easier for transgender people to get state-issued ID and other documents that correctly reflects their gender identity.

In North Carolina, the Mental Health Protection Act, was filed in March. It would outlaw converstion therapy, part of a rapidly growing national movement.  Despite polls showing overwhelming bipartisan support for the ban, it faced stiff opposition from religious groups and conservative Republicans and did not receive a hearing in this legislative session. No such bill has yet been passed in any state in the Southeast.

The Movement Advancement Project’s map of laws banning conversion therapy

The Colorado bill didn’t happen overnight, either. A bill outlawing conversion therapy was filed five times before finally being passed and signed into law this year.

When North Carolina’s bill was introduced back in March, Sen. Terry van Duyn (D-Buncombe) said Democratic lawmakers know they face opposition from religious groups and their Republican colleagues – but these bills can be the beginning of a conversation that may change minds.

“We’re seeing attitudes change across the state,” van Duyn said. “Sometimes it takes legislators a little while to catch up with the people they represent.”

 

News, public health

UNC/Vidant Health conflict headed to Senate committee

Update: Meeting in an emergency session late Monday, the Pitt County Board of Commissioners approved a proposal to end the dispute between Vidant Health, the county and the UNC System.

Under the proposal the UNC Board of Governors would appoint four members to the hospital’s board rather than the nine it appointed under the original agreement. Pitt County would retain its 11 appointments (at least one a physician from Pitt County) and the Vidant board would itself appoint two members (both physicians from ECU nominated by a committee at the university). The dean of ECU’s medical school would also hold a seat on the board.

UNC rejected the proposal in a statement, insisting that the system in place since the 1970s agreement between the parties be restored.

“We continue to believe that the best path forward for Vidant, Pitt County and East Carolina University would be to honor the long-standing partnership that has served eastern North Carolina well for more than 40 years and to fully restore the governance structure all parties had agreed to in the affiliation agreement,” the UNC System statement read. “We welcome future dialogue with Vidant leadership and look forward to hearing their concerns, as well as resolving problems that have arisen in the relationship with Vidant and its support of the Brody School of Medicine.”

Members of the committee said they weren’t sure whether that discussion would go forward as the parties are now in mediation.

Tensions between UNC and the eight hospital system based in Greenville exploded last month after Vidant announced it was no longer acknowledging the UNC Board of Governors’s right to appointment members to the the board of Vidant Medical Center.

Under an agreement in place since the 1970s the UNC Board of Governors appoints nine members to the board, part of its serving as a teaching hospital for ECU’s Brody School of Medicine. The Pitt County Board of Commissioners, whose county once owned the hospital, appoints 11.

ECU and the UNC system sued to prevent losing those appointments, the court issued a temporary restraining order freezing the current relationship in place and the parties have now entered into mediation.

Last week the UNC system issued a statement on the struggle through UNC Spokesman Josh Ellis.

“We continue to believe that the best path forward for Vidant, Pitt County and East Carolina University would be to honor the long-standing partnership that has served eastern North Carolina well for more than 40 years and to fully restore the governance structure all parties had agreed to in the affiliation agreement,” the statement read. “We look forward to hearing Vidant’s concerns, as well as resolving problems that have arisen in the relationship between with Vidantand its support of the Brody School of Medicine.”

But Vidant leaders in Greenville say the conflict goes deeper. Last week Greenville TV news station WITN released confidential documents from a consulting firm hired by the UNC system that showed their research into taking over the system.

In response Vidant released a statement accusing the UNC system of a “behind the scenes” plan to take over Vidant.

“It is part of a coordinated effort by outside interests and Raleigh politicians to take dominant position in governance, deal terms, etc. in eastern North Carolina,” the statement said.

“Despite this and many false narratives, the affiliation agreement with the Brody School of Medicine has always been and continues to be in effect,” Vidant said in its statement. “In fact, Vidant continues to support the education of medical students, residents and other health care providers, including Pirate nurses. The significant financial support from Vidant to Brody continues.”

UNC responded with a statement denying they had any plan — secret or otherwise — to take over the system.

“Even if there were plans, secrecy would be impossible,” the system said in a statement. “A combination of UNC Health Care and Vidant Health would require the approval of multiple public entities and boards. It would also require a public bidding process under State law.”

“Like all hospital systems, the UNC Health Care System is keenly aware of the rapid consolidation occurring across the country,” the statement read. “All systems look frequently to consider potential partners. The leaked document was prepared by a consulting firm hired by the UNC Board of Governors to illustrate and educate them on what the consolidating health care market might look like in the future. It was not prepared to evaluate partners or to pursue new partners.”

UNC Health Care has had a number of conversations with Vidant CEO Mike Waldrum about working together better, the system said in the statement, but none about takeovers. The statement alleges that Waldrum has talked with the UNC system and members of the Board of Governors in the past about the possibility of merging with UNC Health Care, which until recently was headed by Bill Roper, now interim president of the UNC System. UNC Health Care did not pursue the idea, the statement said.

The Senate budget, passed last week, would cut $35 million in Medicaid funds from Vidant Medical Center, an outcome both Republican and Democratic Senators said they would like to prevent.

Waldrum told Greenville’s Daily Reflector newspaper he didn’t understand why the budget cuts were put in place as the two parties were trying to resolve their disagreement.

““We think they have some valid concerns but we want to make sure our concerns are heard and we are committed to working with them through the process,” Waldrum said. “That’s why the thing we don’t understand is these cuts were put in the budget at the same time the two legal teams were working to resolve the issues.”

“We had hoped that we made appropriate and best-governance changes (and) they would work with us,” he said said. “We did not anticipate people would take actions that would damage eastern North Carolina. We were surprised by that.”

Senate leader Phil Berger said Monday that “all potential options” are being considered to resolve the dispute.

News

Maine becomes 17th state to outlaw conversion therapy, NC bill not given a hearing

Maine made history Wednesday, becoming the 17th U.S. state to outlaw so-called “conversion therapy,” which attempts to “cure” people of being lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

A similar bill, the Mental Health Protection Act, was filed in the North Carolina House in March. Despite polls showing overwhelming bipartisan support for the ban, it faced stiff opposition from religious groups and conservative Republicans and did not receive a hearing in this legislative session. No such bill has yet been passed in the Southeast.

In April, Policy Watch had an exclusive interview with Sam Brinton, director of Advocacy for The Trevor Project and Garrard Conley, author of the best-selling conversion therapy memoir “Boy Erased.”

Conley and Brinton both emphasized the progress in North Carolina even filing a bill and beginning the conversation in the state.

“Submitting the bills is the important part,” said Brinton. “We talk about the Colorados and the Massachusettses, but North Carolina filing a bill was radical. Youth here are calling us and saying ‘I’m not in crisis now, I’m in celebration.’”

In Colorado, a bill was filed five times before finally passing the House and Senate this year. The governor is expected to sign it into law next week.

In Massachusetts, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage back in 2004, a bill outlawing conversion therapy wasn’t passed until just this year.

“It’s kind of like the starter pistol when a state puts forth a bill,” Conley said. “When I was in Texas speaking not too long ago, they had a bill fail. But the woman who was there who had put it forward was like, ‘We were able to have a huge conversation. We were able to have op-eds in the paper. It was a basis for discussion. So, as many times as you have to do that, keep doing it.’”

The conversation is key, Brinton said.

“It’s another mother who says, ‘Should I be putting my child through this?’” Brinton said. “Because the state is debating whether this should even be legal.”

N.C. Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Davidson) was a primary sponsor of the Mental Health Protection Act, but was pretty clear eyed about its chances this legislative session.

“I think the Republican leadership have their agenda set,” Marcus said. “I have no indication that banning conversion therapy is part of their agenda.”

It may take a political shift in 2020 to change the leadership in the General Assembly, she said, and to accomplish what an increasing states already have.

“But what we’re doing now is how it starts,” she said.

A political shift did make the difference in Marine, where despite a bill outlawing conversion therapy passing last year it was vetoed by former Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican.

 

Courts & the Law, News

Durham prosecutors no longer seeking cash bail in most cases

The Durham County District Attorney’s Office has stopped seeking cash bail in most cases, it announced in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

Durham County District Attorney Satana Deberry

“Research shows the cash bail system disproportionately impacts lower-wealth people and people of color,” said District Attorney Satana Deberry in the statement.  “Setting high money bail doesn’t ensure that dangerous people remain in jail, it ensures poor people stay in jail. This policy removes wealth from the equation to the extent possible under North Carolina law, instead making public safety the determining factor in pretrial release recommendations.”

Bail reform was a strong part of Deberry’s platform when she was elected last year. Since she put the new policy in place in February, she said in Tuesday’s announcement, the population at the Durham County Detention Center has fallen 15 percent.

Though judges in the Fourteenth Judicial District rewrote bail and pretrial system policies earlier this year, Deberry’s announced changes go further.

The new policy establishes a presumption that all those awaiting trial should be released on a written promise to appear, without monetary conditions, except for those facing charges “involving physical harm or threats of physical harm to another person.” That would extend to misdemeanors and low-level felonies with the exception of domestic violence cases, according to the the office.

“In the American justice system, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty,” Deberry said in the statement. “This office believes people should only be detained prior to trial if they pose a flight risk or they are a danger to themselves or others.”

Prosecutors will weigh each case individually in considering what recommendations to make to the court, Deberry’s office said, and those considered flight risks or dangerous may still be put under house arrest or kept under electronic monitoring.

The new policy states explicitly that unsecured bonds — those paid by those charged rather than through a bondsman taking a percentage —  “should not be requested without evidence and a request for a finding that the defendant has the present ability to pay it.”

The national movement for bail reform has gained momentum in the last few years. Last summer, California became the first state to officially end cash bail — a landmark move, though not all reform advocates agree with the specifics of how the state is doing it.

In her statement, Deberry aligned her office’s new policy with that movement.

“This policy is part of a larger effort to rethink when and why we impose incarceration,” Deberry said. “And to reduce unnecessary prosecution of individuals facing charges that often arise from poverty, mental illness, and substance use.”

Earlier this month bail reform activists were arrested after chaining themselves to a gate outside the Durham County Detention Center to protest detention and bail policies. The protest was part of the national Black Mamas Bailout movement, bailing out incarcerated mothers out of jail for mother’s day.

Policy Watch has written extensively about the state’s current bail system and efforts at reform.

Our reporting has highlighted numerous examples of individual and systemic corruption within the bail systemthe system’s frequently unjust impact on the poor and the concerns of veteran jurists that profit and politics have compromised the original intent of state statutes dealing with bail as well as the presumption of innocence.

Many judgespublic defenders, reform groups and bail agents themselves agree the current system and the for-profit bail industry it feeds are badly flawed.

Most North Carolinians think so too, according to polling on the issue done late last year.