RALEIGH, N.C. -- A bill requiring doctors and nurses to protect and care for children born alive during a failed late-term abortion cleared the North Carolina Senate on Monday, handing social conservatives a victory that could ultimately be undone by the Democratic governor.
The Republican-drafted legislation specifies that health care practitioners should grant those children born alive the same protections as any other newborn patient. Those who don't do so could face a felony and active prison time, along with potential $250,000 fines and other monetary damages. A mother can't be prosecuted, but health care providers who fail to report any improper care to authorities could be charged.
"This has nothing to do with limiting abortion in any way," said Republican Sen. Joyce Krawiec, the bill's sponsor, in floor debate. "This bill changes nothing except how that born-alive infant is treated."
Abortion-rights lawmakers and activists strongly oppose the bill, saying the problem it attempts to address is nonexistent. They also say that state medical licensing boards and current criminal laws already punish doctors and nurses who fail to offer care to a newborn. Rather, they argue, the measure seeks to force medical actions between a physician and a pregnant woman, interfering with her right to an abortion.
"It's about political points, and I stand with women and their doctors, and I will not participate in this slide toward overturning Roe (versus) Wade," said Sen. Natasha Marcus, a first-term Democrat. She was referring to the landmark 1973 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing abortion nationwide.
The measure now moves to the House for expected floor debate and a vote on the measure Tuesday. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has criticized the measure through a spokeswoman, raising expectations he would veto it if it reaches his desk.
Two Senate Democrats joined all Republicans voting 28-19 for the measure Monday night, suggesting a veto could be overridden in that chamber. But House Republicans may need seven Democrats to join them in voting for the legislation to fully withstand any veto. Republicans hold majorities in both chambers but lost veto-proof control in January after Democratic seat gains in November.
Anti-abortion groups have embraced the "Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act," which they say would protect children born alive after botched late-term abortions and who otherwise would be left to die. The state's murder statutes also would be expanded in the measure to apply to an "intentional, overt act" after a child is born alive.
The bill's supporters have provided written testimony of adults who saw or survived botched abortions. It's unclear, however, how often such situations occur.
The North Carolina Values Coalition said five states have reported at least 25 children were born alive during attempted abortions in 2017. North Carolina keeps no such statistics.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported more than 140 infant deaths involved induced terminations nationwide from 2003 to 2014. It hasn't specified what level of care those newborns received.
North Carolina Republicans have passed abortion restrictions this decade, including one that extended the waiting period for the procedure to 72 hours. But a North Carolina law adjusted in 2015 to limit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy to only those during a medical emergency was struck down by a federal judge. He delayed enforcement of his decision so the state could appeal or rewrite that law.
Anti-abortion and abortion-rights filled seats on opposite sides of the Senate gallery on Monday. Two other Democratic women who spoke against the bill are running for statewide office next year. Sen. Erica Smith is running for U.S. Senate while Sen. Terry Van Duyn wants to be the next lieutenant governor.
Current Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a Republican and the Senate's presiding officer, endorsed the bill. He is preparing to run for governor in 2020, hoping to unseat Cooper.
This story has been corrected to show Marcus' first name is Natasha, not Ruth.