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Abortion debate in Senate begins as hundreds pack gallery

UPDATED: About 500 protesters are crowded into the N.C. Senate gallery, the legislative building and outside to show opposition to a sweeping abortion bill under consideration right now. Read the latest here from the ongoing debate.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a Republican, has warned the gallery numerous times to stay quiet, threatening to clear the viewing area if they don't. He told the visitors that the senators "are your voice here on all matters. They are the only ones we'll be hearing from today."

Two Democratic amendments to weaken the bill failed. Now the debate moves to the full measure. Republicans have enough votes to easily approve the measure. (More below.)

Democratic lawmakers are condemning the process by which the bill was brought before the Senate. Sen. Malcolm Graham of Charlotte said the voters of the state have been silenced. "No one knew what was coming," he said.

Women who found out about the vote on Facebook and Twitter last night came to the legislature on about 12 hours notice. By 9 a.m. the gallery was full and about 200 people had gathered outside. “I’ve seen this happening elsewhere in the country,” said Valerie Evans of Raleigh. “I feel like we have to stand up and push back.”

Evans said she knew the Senate would probably approve the measure, but she wanted them to know that many people disapprove. “It’s sneaky,” Tanya Olson of Durham said of the surprise Senate action. “It’s not right. They have to know that people know this.”

Bill supporters were in the crowd too, but they were far outnumbered by opponents who could be identified by their pink shirts. “We want to protect unborn babies,” said Amy Huffman, of Alamance County Right to Life.

--Staff writers Lynn Bonner, Craig Jarvis, Annalise Frank and John Frank contributed to this report.


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