Championed by Republican leaders, religious groups and other abortion opponents, the controversial legislation would require North Carolina's abortion clinics to meet tougher standards, similar to those applied to the state's ambulatory surgery centers.
Republican leaders caught Democrats and abortion-rights groups off-guard Tuesday night when they brought the changes to the floor as part of the debate on unrelated legislation banning the recognition of Sharia law in North Carolina courts.
The abortion restrictions passed the chamber Tuesday night, and the underlying package was approved on Wednesday by a 29-12 party-line vote. The proposal now goes to the state House, which had previously passed the bill without the abortion amendments.
Supporters of the abortion provisions contend the changes are aimed simply to protect women seeking abortion services.
“We’re not here today taking away the rights of women,” GOP Sen. Warren Daniel said, according to local reports. “We’re taking away the rights of an industry to have substandard conditions.”
Critics disagree, arguing that the new rules are overly restrictive, and are really designed to shutter the state's 16 licensed abortion clinics. Among its provisions, the bill dictates new standards for things like ventilation, parking and the width of clinic hallways – stipulations that would require costly renovations, the critics say.
"If this is a healthcare bill about women, I am glad any state legislator in Raleigh is not my doctor," Hagan said.
Hagan on Wednesday said the vote is part of a larger trend sweeping the country on the wings of anti-abortion groups that have the ears of conservative state legislators. She cited one anti-abortion group in particular – Americans United for Life – as being "a bill mill" that writes "model legislation" that's popped up in states like Texas, Ohio and now North Carolina.
Hagan characterized the Republicans' move to attach the abortion restrictions to a bill barring religious dictates as "the world's most ironic sneak attack."
"You know, I'm sure these legislators couldn't tell you what Sharia law [is]," she said. "But what they think it is is exactly what they're doing in these [abortion] bills: imposing a religious dictate on women."
Democrats in Washington have been successful in their campaign accusing Republicans of waging a "war on women," and Hagan was quick to note that the abortion measures were championed largely by male legislators.
"When I think about a bunch of men sitting in Raleigh debating how wide a hallway should be in a women's health care clinic, I think that is totally absurd," she said.