North Carolina’s Motorcycle Abortion Bill

The Republican-controlled North Carolina House voted in anti-abortion legislation in July, disguised as an unrelated provision on motorcycle safety. Legislation S.B. 353 would bar sex-selective abortions, put an end to abortion coverage in public employee’s health insurance plans and impose additional regulations which could potentially close some abortion clinics.

The bill is widely unpopular, and may be the one thing standing in the way of Republicans replacing the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Kay Hagan in 2014. Thom Tillis, who is the GOP’s only declared candidate and the top Republican in the House of Representatives, is also a staunch supporter of S.B. 353. 

Last week, finally breaking his silence on the issue, Tillis explained his thinking to the Charlotte News & Observer. “It happens to be something I support and I thought if I didn’t, they’d say, `Why didn’t you?’ so I thought I would solve the question by making it very clear where I stood on the bill.” Tillis’ support of the law, however, puts him in the minority.

Only 34 percent of voters say they approve it, and since the debate began, Governor Pat McCrory’s approval rating has dropped dramatically.

Controversy over S.B. 353 began when the law became a stealthy disguise for a slate of new abortion restrictions. Republicans first introduced the legislation in the House Judiciary Committee in early July by attaching the abortion provisions to a motorcycle safety bill without notifying the public or their Democratic colleagues.

The motorcycle bill is less restrictive than the original version that passed the state Senate because of a provision designed to prohibit state courts from applying Islamic Shariah Law. Criticized by Gov. McCrory, that measure would have required abortion clinics to adhere to the same guidelines as ambulatory surgery centers. 

“I think the absolute worst thing the Republicans can do if they want to beat Kay Hagan is run a leader from the legislature, “says Tom Jensen, the director of Public Policy Polling. “The legislature has always been unpopular, but it has never been more unpopular than it is now.”

The motorcycle bill in question did have one small section related to motorcycle safety. The act itself becomes effective on October 1, 2013 and doles out increased penalties for unsafe movements by drivers that threaten the property and safety of motorcyclists. This includes using appropriate signals when starting, stopping, and turning. A motorist who violates this section and causes a motorcyclist to crash, shall face increased fines and a possible driver’s license suspension.