The North Carolina House has approved a proposal to regulate the operations of abortion clinics in the state. The bill, which the Republican-controlled House tacked onto a motorcycle safety bill, would severely hamper abortion rights in NC. After a veto threat from the governor, the proposal is less restrictive than its previous incarnation, which was without notice tacked onto a so-called anti-Shariah law bill right before the July 4th holiday weekend. The whole process would be comical if so much weren’t at stake. The bill would, among other things, force clinics that provide abortions to adopt some standards that apply to surgical clinics; require that a physician be present during the first administration of any abortion-inducing drug; allow any healthcare provider to opt out of providing abortion procedures; prohibit health plans offered in compliance with the Affordable Care Act from covering abortion procedures; and prohibit cities and counties from offering abortion coverage in their health plans.
Opponents see the bill as an attack on abortion rights and women’s health and rights more generally, since the proposal looks like a backdoor attempt to shut down abortion services in the state through overregulation. Supporters, however, have argued that the bill is necessary for the safety of women. One supporter, Rep. Ruth Samuelson (R-Mecklenburg), told WRAL news, “This is really about protecting the health and safety of women.” Likewise, Rep. Sarah Stevens (R-Surry) told WRAL news, “We know that abortion is out there, but it should be safe and clean and sterile as well as legal.” Pat McElraft (R-Carteret) insisted that such measures are necessary, since a good number of “clinics are nothing but money-making facilities. It’s not about the health of women. It’s about abortion on demand at any cost to women.” In a nutshell, more regulation equals greater safety for women, and safety trumps rights.
The appeal to safety is, of course, little more than a ruse, whatever supporters of the bill may say. Limiting abortion rights has been a pet concern of conservative lawmakers in numerous states, particularly in the past few years, and NC is no exception in this respect. It’s interesting to point out, however, that concerns over “safety” vary depending on the context and which rights are involved.
Take NC House Bill 937, which is currently pending in the House Rules Committee. The bill relaxes gun restrictions in NC, allowing concealed carry on college campuses and in businesses that serve alcohol, among other places. It would also do away with pistol permits and allow hunting with silencers. All in the name of protecting—indeed, expanding—constitutional rights, of course. University of North Carolina President Tom Ross urged against the bill, saying that the ability to carry a gun on campus “would increase the risk to public safety and hamper our ability to protect not only our students, staff and faculty, but also campus visitors.” UNC-Greensboro Police Chief Jamie Herring has likewise said that “allowing possession of firearms can only make campuses less safe.” It should go without saying that guns and alcohol aren’t really the best combination when it comes to the safety of all involved, and hunting with silencers just doesn’t seem like a good idea.
So, for NC Republicans, when it comes to abortion, it’s perfectly acceptable to limit the rights of women in the name of “safety.” Yet, when it comes to guns, we must not only protect but expand rights as well, since those rights trump “safety” concerns. The logic is baffling, precisely because it’s not really about safety: the NC GOP just happens to like guns more than women.