Does being pro-life matter anymore? After all, a pro-life agenda has almost no chance of passing this session. And, if things don’t change, pro-life legislation will continue to get buried in committee year after year, bill after pro-life bill. Consider the following:
First, this is an election year and legislators want nothing more than to pass the budget and get back to campaigning for 2008. Or, at least, that seems to be the prevailing attitude on Jones Street. Yet several pieces of significant legislation, such as SB 2063 (Jessica’s Law) or SB 1965 (stem cell funding), have a good chance of passing this session. Of course, in the end these bills – especially SB 1965 – may well get put into the budget, vindicating the common wisdom after all.
Second, this being an election year, legislators want to avoid the appearance of doing anything controversial. Politics, however, is always controversial. Indeed, what could be more controversial than passing a $21 billion budget? What could be more controversial than failing yet again to ban partial-birth abortion or failing yet again to protect traditional marriage?
Third, the day of the social conservative is over. Social conservatives have lost their political dominance and been displaced by moderates and independents. This argument feels more true than it is, which is another way of acknowledging that many social conservatives are dispirited right now. Yet, Civitas’ polling continues to confirm that a majority of North Carolinians are pro-life. There is also strong public support for a partial-birth abortion ban, as well as other pro-life policies. All that being said, this is a good time for pro-lifers to regroup and find their bearings.
WHAT’S HAPPENED SO FAR
The 2007 session saw the introduction of several pro-life bills – such as a Woman’s Right to Know Act (HB 1552), as well as legislation that would have prohibited abortion coverage under the State Health Plan (SB 480). None of these bills made crossover. During the 2008 session, only one pro-life measure has been approved by any committee – HB 932, which would create a “Choose Life” specialty license plate. Whether this bill will survive its debut before the House Finance Committee is another question.
On the other hand, several anti-life measures, such as an attempt to allocate $16 million for stem cell research (SB 1965), have also failed to get out of committee. It is likely that this bill is going to be inserted into the Senate budget, giving members cover for voting for legislation that hasn’t been able to get through on its own (cf. HB 1837). Given that HB 1837 also made crossover, this could also be a bait-and-switch tactic.
The proposed House budget also allocates millions for a mixed bag of “family planning” and teen pregnancy initiatives:
- $4.75 million in TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) block grants to the Department of Health and Human Services to expand after-school programs to “reach children at risk of teen pregnancy, school dropout, and gang participation.” These programs seem to be teaching "comprehensive" sex-ed, thus undermining the abstinence-only curriculum approved by the state.
- $1.8 million for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention activities in the Women’s and Children’s Program of the Division of Public Health (with another $1.8 million from TANF block grants). One of the requirements for non-profits that receive funding through this initiative is the development of a "plan to provide comprehensive sexuality education" — but one that, at least, includes an abstinence component. The good news here is that these programs are subject to continuation review.
- A $100,000 increase in recurring funding for family planning to uninsured women not eligible for Medicaid. This initiative, which was also funded in the FY2007-08 budget, seems to be targeted at illegal aliens.
- A $75,000 increase in recurring funding for the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Coalition of North Carolina. Among other things, the coalition promotes the use of what it claims are “science-based” sex-ed programs contrary to the abstinence-only courses taught in North Carolina’s schools.
| What Voters Like:
82% of N.C. voters support a fetal homicide law (April 2008)
54% of voters are pro-life (July 2006)
54% support passage of a statewide partial-birth abortion ban (May 2007)
47% support abstinence-only education vs. (41%) comprehensive sex-ed (May 2008)
WHAT WON’T HAPPEN, BUT SHOULD
It is somewhat surprising that North Carolina is one of the most liberal states in the country when it comes to abortion. Unlike many states, North Carolina permits partial-birth abortion. Likewise, North Carolina does not require that a woman undergo counseling before getting an abortion. While it is unlikely that pro-life initiatives will make much progress during the 2008 session, a concrete pro-life platform would incorporate the following proposals.
Protect the Right to Informed Consent
Thirty-two states currently require that counseling be given to a mother considering an abortion; 24 states require a mandatory waiting period between the counseling session and the actual abortion. Likewise, North Carolina should require that a counseling session, accompanied by an ultrasound, be given to any woman contemplating an abortion. The state should also institute a minimum 24-hour waiting period between the counseling session and the abortion.
Ban Partial-birth Abortion
Thirty-one states and the federal government have passed legislation banning partial-birth abortion. A partial-birth abortion is one in which labor is induced and a late-term (> 20 weeks) baby is delivered vaginally. Before the delivery is complete, the abortionist uses a catheter to suck the baby’s brains out, thus causing the skull to collapse. The constitutionality of this ban was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Carhart (2007).
Protect Women from Medical Malpractice
Require abortion providers to obtain medical malpractice insurance. Currently, abortion providers are neither obliged to obtain liability insurance for medical malpractice nor are those that lack coverage obligated to notify their clients.
Protect the Elderly and Other Vulnerable Populations
During the 2007 session, the General Assembly enacted legislation (S.L. 2007-502) that makes it easier to end the life of persons with advanced dementia, as well as unconscious persons diagnosed with an “incurable” condition. Along with repealing this legislation, the General Assembly should specify that assisted suicide is a felony (cf. G.S. § 14-17.1).
Cut Off Funding for Nonprofits that Perform Abortions
Each year, hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are allocated to various nonprofit organizations across the state. Some of the recipients of these funds are organizations that perform abortions. The most notable of these groups is Planned Parenthood – which received $843,000 in 2005 and 2006 alone. Six states do not use taxpayer dollars to fund Planned Parenthood; neighboring Virginia also came close to passing a similar ban earlier this year.
Stay Out of the Embryonic Stem Cell Debate
Several state universities – for instance, UNC-Chapel Hill and East Carolina University – are already conducting embryonic stem cell research. Instead of expanding funding for this controversial research, as proposed in HB 1837 and SB 1965, the state should simply prohibit public universities from conducting research on human embryos. If the state isn’t going to ban such research, it should at least leave it to the private sector.
"North Carolina lacks many common sense and life-affirming laws. For example, North Carolina does not require informed consent for abortion. … Moreover, despite significant threats of abuse inherent in some biotechnologies, North Carolina does not regulate destructive embryo research, human cloning, or assisted reproductive technologies. Finally, North Carolina is one of a small number of states that do not expressly prohibit assisted suicide."
Americans United For Life