The sweeping abortion bill the Senate rapidly approved last week slowed down in the House on Tuesday, where the state’s public health regulators told lawmakers extensive questions should be answered before enacting it into law.
As a result, the House and Senate authors of the legislation agreed to try to work out concerns with the state Department of Health and Human Services. Rep. Ruth Samuelson, a Republican from Charlotte, said she hoped the questions could be resolved this week and a bill sent to the governor before this session is over.
But the extent of Gov. Pat McCrory’s concerns about the “Family, Faith and Freedom Protection Act,” which he discussed with reporters on Tuesday, became clear when the head of DHHS and top aides showed up at the House Health and Human Services committee on Wednesday morning.
DHHS Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos said the department has concerns about the bill’s provision requiring the agency rewrite current regulations for abortion clinics, including imposing a higher level of regulation similar to what currently covers ambulatory surgical centers. Only one abortion clinic in the state currently meets the more stringent regulations and the 16 others would be forced to close, the bill’s opponents say.
Wos said the department and the governor agree with some aspects of the bill – such as protecting health-care providers who oppose abortions on moral grounds, and providing health information for expectant mothers.
“But there are other parts of the bill that are far more complex and require further discussion and clarity prior to passage to ensure they are medically sound, safe and legal,” Wos said.
Wos singled out as an area of concern the provision requiring the higher standards for abortion clinics.
Wos said what would help ensure public safety is providing the department with enough resources to make regular inspections. She noted there are 10 fulltime staff members whose job it is to survey hundreds of medical facilities across the state, including abortion clinics. As a result, she said, DHHS is only able to inspect abortion clinics every three to five years.
But she didn’t argue that new rules weren’t needed.
“To those who disagree with any new rules and regulations, this is unrealistic,” Wos said. “As medical science advances, we constantly have new information, we must review our rules and regulations and become current.”
The bill’s progress is taking an unusual path this week. Typically, when the Senate rewrites parts of a House bill – as happened in this case – it returns to the House for a vote on whether or not to concur with the changes. If differences remain, both chambers appoint a conference committee to work things out.
Reacting to criticism over rushed handling of the bill in the Senate last week, House Speaker Thom Tillis said he wanted to give the controversy a further public airing and so had it sent to the committee that met Tuesday.
Technically speaking, the Senate hadn't released the bill to the House until Tuesday afternoon. House leaders said there was no immediate plan to put the bill on the calendar, pending outcome of the discussions with DHHS.