North Carolina GOP Is Using An Anti-Sharia Bill To Sneak Through Extreme Abortion Restrictions

North Carolina protesters rally against proposed abortion restrictions in May (Credit: NARAL NC/Lillie Elliot)

The North Carolina legislature is advancing a package of stringent abortion restrictions that appeared in the Senate this week without any public notice. The anti-abortion measures popped up on Tuesday night, tacked onto a controversial measure to ban Sharia law, and caught women’s health advocates completely off-guard.

House Bill 695, which would prohibit the recognition of Sharia law in family courts — an increasingly popular conservative tactic that essentially serves to demonize the Islamic faith — was slated for consideration in a Senate committee on Tuesday. As soon as that committee convened, it quickly approved several abortion-related amendments to the legislation. HB 695 now combines several different anti-abortion measures that were in different stages in the legislature into one omnibus measure.

The new amendments would prevent insurance plans on Obamacare’s health marketplaces from covering abortion services, ban “sex-selective” abortions, impose unnecessary restrictions on doctors administering the abortion pill to women, and require the state’s abortion clinics to adhere to complicated new regulations that would likely force most of them to close. A similar package of abortion restrictions has inspired weeks of protest in Texas, where thousands of reproductive rights activists have been rallying at the state capitol.

The Senate committee’s official schedule made no mention of reproductive health issues. As the News Observer reports, several supporters of the bill — like lobbyists and representatives from the N.C. Values Coalition, the N.C. Family Policy Council, and N.C. Right to Life — were present during the committee meeting when the new amendments were proposed. But the pro-choice lobbyists in opposition to the measure “were not told it was being debated.” A few hours after the committee agreed to tack on the amendments, Senate Republicans decided to bring HB 695 to a floor vote.

Women’s health advocates, who had no idea these measure would be taken up on Tuesday, denounced the last-minute legislative move. They pointed out that state lawmakers are attempting to avoid massive outcry by quietly sneaking through unpopular abortion restrictions right before a holiday weekend.

“It seems to me that they’re trying to pass under cover of darkness legislation that would not otherwise be passed,” Suzanne Buckley, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, pointed out. “They’re trying to pull a Texas.”

Democratic senators also objected to the last-minute maneuvering in the chamber. They criticized their Republican colleagues for quickly bringing HB 695 to a vote before allowing the public to learn more about the new anti-abortion measures that had been added just hours before. “This bill and this process is not worthy of this chamber,” Sen. Josh Stein (D) said.

HB 695 easily won preliminary approval in the Senate on Tuesday night. The measure will likely head to a final vote in the Senate on Wednesday. Now that the abortion amendments are folded into an entirely unrelated measure on Islamic law, some Republican lawmakers are already claiming that “a vote against the abortion restriction bill is vote for Sharia law.”

Women’s health advocates point out that, just like the package of anti-abortion restrictions advancing in Texas, HB 695 is actually simply intended to restrict women’s reproductive rights. If it passes with its current amendments intact, every single one of the state’s Planned Parenthood clinics will have to stop providing abortion services. “The intention of the folks that made the changes to this bill is to end access to abortion care in North Carolina,” Planned Parenthood’s Reed warned. “It’s a wish list of all the restrictions they’ve been trying to get through and weren’t able to during the regular time period of this session. It would end basically access to medical abortion; it could shut down a large number of providers in this state.”

Even if North Carolina Republicans may have hoped to avoid mass protests against HB 695, activists in the state are already loudly voicing their disapproval with the GOP-controlled legislature. Over the past several weeks, thousands of people have been participating in a series of “Moral Monday” protests to stand up against ongoing conservative attacks on the poor, minorities, women, and the environment.