By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
May 16, 2013
RALEIGH — The N.C. House passed several key pieces of legislation this week in advance of Thursday’s crossover deadline and advanced others through committees. One bill that was expected to win approval was sidelined instead.
A pro-life healthcare provider would not be required to take part in medical procedures that result in abortion under a bill passed by the House 73-39 on Thursday. Nor would abortion be covered under health insurance plans offered in North Carolina through federal exchanges established via the Affordable Care Act except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is endangered.
House Bill 730, which would initially have also allowed any employer to exclude contraceptive coverage based on a religious, moral or ethical objection, was amended on the House floor Wednesday night, but still raised the ire of Democrats, who said it was an attempt to limit women’s access to abortion.
“A lot of women are going to be hopping mad at you for doing it,” Rep. Deborah Ross (D-Wake) told bill supporters. Fellow Democrat Alma Adams (Guilford) said lawmakers need to come to grips with the fact that “abortion is legal and in some instances it is needed.” She said the bill discriminates against women.
Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland) on Thursday called the choice to abort an “intense, personal, spiritual private decision.”
“There are times, many times when an embryo is an embedded blessing, but there are other times when it is a nightmare,” he said, chiding, “How omnipotent the people in this chamber must believe themselves to be!”
But supporters of the bill pointed out that just because something is legal doesn’t mean taxpayers should foot the bill for it, and also that Obamacare expressly permits states to “opt out” of abortion coverage in insurance exchanges.
“A woman’s ability to choose an abortion does not demand that taxpayers subsidize plans to cover abortion,” Barbara Holt with North Carolina Right to Life told lawmakers in Judiciary Subcommittee A, which heard the bill Wednesday morning.
Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer (R-Mecklenburg), the bill’s primary sponsor, said the measure was aimed at protecting the conscience rights of healthcare providers. Already doctors and nurses who object cannot be required to participate in an abortion procedure. The bill would extend that protection to all healthcare providers. It would also mirror provisions of the federal Hyde Amendment, Schaffer said, by prohibiting counties and cities from including in employee health plans any coverage for abortion greater than that already provided by the State Health Plan.
Heated debate in committee led to an amendment proposed by House Majority Leader Paul Stam (Wake) on the House floor Wednesday that removed the provision that would have allowed any employer to nix contraceptive coverage based on religious convictions. Another amendment from Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange), which would have allowed for increased abortion services in health insurance exchanges, failed.
The bill passed second reading 67 to 38 Wednesday night but had to come back before the House on Thursday because Rep. Stam’s amendment had properly altered its title.
Debate became more heated Thursday as Rep. Adams threatened that women whose insurance doesn’t pay for abortion would go to “back rooms” or “underground” to seek the service. She had no answer when Rep. Dean Arp (R-Union) asked her if payments in the insurance exchange could go to doctors like Kermit Gosnell.
Having heard Adams repeatedly state that the bill discriminates against women, Rep. Robert Brawley (R-Iredell) pointed out that the measure is sponsored by four women.
And sponsor Rep. Susan Martin (R-Wilson) said the bill is not a gender issue but is a “human issue.” She said it is pro-choice because it gives healthcare providers of either gender who oppose abortion the right to choose not to participate and that it also retains choice for taxpayers, who would no longer be forced to support abortion against their will.
“All that this bill is doing is saying my right to not participate for my tax dollars to go to fund abortions is being protected,” she said.
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League agreed.
“Taxpayers should not be forced to fund abortion, and this bill will keep us from doing so,” he said. “While we were disappointed by the removal of the provision that would have broadened the definition of religious employer and protected business owners from being forced to provide contraceptive coverage in violation of their own consciences, we are still glad to see the remainder of the bill pass the House. It’s still a win for pro-life supporters.”
In other House action, lawmakers approved H 855, Human Trafficking, also sponsored by Rep. Schaffer. Similar in scope to the Safe Harbor bill passed in the Senate this week (S 683), the measure would amend current prostitution laws to ensure that human trafficking victims, particularly those under 18, are treated as victims and not criminals.
The bill would broaden the definition of abused juvenile to include victims of human trafficking, involuntary servitude or sexual servitude and would prevent mistake of age or consent of a minor from being used as a defense for trafficking crimes. Additionally, it would require those convicted of human trafficking to pay restitution and would make the victims claimants via the Crime Victims Compensation Act.
Finally, the bill would require schools to provide awareness and training materials about human trafficking to students, parents and school personnel and would have the Department of Health and Human Services to establish a statewide hotline for reporting suspected cases of human trafficking.
Anna Beard, a former victim of sex trafficking, told the House Judiciary Subcommittee A Wednesday that the hotline as well as the education provisions were imperative parts of the bill.
A native of India who was adopted by an American family, Beard said she had no idea she was becoming a victim of sex trafficking when, at age 16, she was wooed by a 40-year-old co-worker, wound up moving in with him and was drugged and raped repeatedly. Now a pre-law student finding joy in life, Beard said it wasn’t until her captor died that she began to understand that what was happening wasn’t her fault.
The bill passed the House 113 to 0 and is headed to the Senate.
Earlier this past week, the House approved a ban on synthetic cannabinoids, including those sold as bath salts or under brand names such as K-1, Spice, or Bizarro.
The bill would make it illegal to manufacture, possess, sell, use or deliver any amount of any “synthetic chemical compound that is a cannabinoid receptor agonist and mimics the pharmacological effect of naturally occurring substances or has a stimulant, depressant or hallucinogenic effect on the central nervous system.” Unless approved by the FDA, such compounds would be considered Schedule VI controlled substances.
Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union) told fellow House members that the bill is the “final answer, if there is such a thing” to the popular drug knock-offs, which are often sold in head shops and typically easy to acquire but also dangerous.
Passed unanimously in the House, the bill has been sent to the Senate Committee on Judiciary II.
Designed to shore up freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment, House Bill 751 would have prohibited the state from “substantially burdening” someone’s free exercise of religion unless there is a compelling state interest. It would ensure that the state used the least restrictive means of furthering that interest and would allow for a person to receive attorney’s fees and costs from the state if it were proven that the act had been violated.
At least 16 states have passed their own RFRAs since 1993 when the federal version of the law was put in place, and North Carolina’s measure was expected to pass the House Wednesday night. However, Rep. Julia Howard (R-Davie), who had not raised the issue in Judiciary Subcommittee A, which approved the bill that morning, suddenly asked for a fiscal note on the proposed law, a privilege that she holds as senior chairman of the Finance Committee. Her request required the bill to be pulled from the calendar, effectively killing it before the crossover deadline.
On Thursday, Rep. Howard told the CAL that she had no knowledge that the legislation would have any cost but that it is the responsibility of members of the General Assembly to have that information before enacting legislation. She said it is “always in the best interest of a bill sponsor to make an inquiry with fiscal staff with respect to possible fiscal impact, and that document should be a part of the folder.”