A crop of recent abortion legislation nationwide has bred controversy that could lead to the courtroom, and an N.C. abortion bill might face the same future if it becomes law.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood are beginning a legal push against abortion restrictions in Wisconsin and Texas — and opponents of the N.C. Senate’s abortion bill say murky language in the legislation could eventually land it in court.
The bill, which would task the Department of Health and Human Services with updating standards for state abortion clinics, passed the N.C. House of Representatives last week and is now in a Senate committee.
Gov. Pat McCrory said in a statement after the vote he would sign the bill into law.
But some regulations could be too vague to be enforceable, their shakiness bolstered by a lack of defined language or constitutional basis, said N.C. Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland), who is also an attorney.
The bill, for example, requires a doctor stay with the patient for the “entire abortion procedure” — a gray area Glazier said could stretch to an hour pre-operation and post-operation plus the procedure itself.
“Doctors just don’t sit around holding patients’ hands for an hour pre-op,” he said.
“You’re putting in place something that isn’t required of any other doctor in any other setting.”
Caitlin Borgmann, an analyst at the Columbia Center for Gender and Sexuality Law in New York, said these types of legislation — which pro-abortion rights advocates have called targeted regulation of abortion providers — have been hard to fight in the courtroom.
“Unless you can prove that one of those regulations was the reason a clinic had to shut down, it can be difficult to prove that the law was the thing that caused the undue burden,” she said.
Still, Borgmann said similar laws might eventually be a victim of their own success.
Courts might become more receptive to legal challenges as anti-abortion advocates’ aims gain transparency, she said.
She added that these laws regulate abortion clinics in ways that make it expensive or impossible for them to meet requirements.
“The goal behind them is for these abortion clinics to have to shut down,” she said. “North Carolina’s bill is … in that vein.”
Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Irene Godinez said though the bill’s language might still be changing, the organization will be following it closely.
“If it’s the current version of the bill (that passes), we will certainly pursue legal recourse,” Godinez said.
Even the amended abortion language in the Senate bill, though less severe than a House bill that came before it, would still whittle down abortion access by ramping up costs to clinics, Glazier said.
But such abortion restrictions, like their legislative kin headed to Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s desk, would ensure higher health and safety standards for clinics, said Elizabeth Graham, spokeswoman for the anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life.
N.C.’s bill is expected to gain Senate approval by the end of the week.
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