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Senate Committee Approves Abortion Teaching Bill

NC Legislative Building
Dave DeWitt
N.C. Legislature Building

A bill that would make public educators teach students that abortions can cause preterm births is headed to the state Senate floor.

It’s one of a raft of measures introduced this session aimed at restricting and reducing the number of abortions. Senate Bill 132 would require health instructors teaching students in the seventh grade and older to include information about what the bill calls “preventable causes of preterm birth, including induced abortion.”

One of the legislature’s biggest committee rooms was overflowing with spectators who gathered to hear what lawmakers had to say about Senate Bill 132. The measure’s sponsor, Republican Senator Warren Daniel, told the room the bill is about giving young people scientific information about future health risks associated with abortion.

"It’s a bill based on science, not based on political ideology, " Daniel said.  "We educate our children on the risks of cigarette smoking, we educate our children on the risks of drinking and other hazardous behaviors and this is just a bill that’s based on the scientific evidence that you will have a risk of premature birth if you decide voluntarily to have an abortion."

Anti-abortion advocates at the General Assembly have passed out studies for years that link premature births to past abortions. The Senate Health Committee invited UNC School of Medicine Pediatrics Professor Marty McCaffrey to run through a few of those studies and speak about his own experiences.

"Some of the mothers of pre-term babies I care for, tortured at their bedsides as they maintain vigils with pre-term infants for months, ask the question why what could I have done to make this different," McCaffrey says. "They know nothing about the association of pre-term birth with the abortion they may have had months or years before."

For much of the hour, the debate focused on the accuracy of studies linking past abortions to infant prematurity, rather than what it might mean for schools to have to teach the concept to students.

Two members of the audience spoke after McCaffrey, saying he was selectively choosing his science. A physician who took issue with McCaffrey happens to be a colleague of his at UNC School of Medicine- Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology David Grimes. He called the bill both unnecessary and uninformed.

"The World Health Organization, the CDC, the American College of Obstreticians and gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics to which Dr. McCaffrey belongs, and the American Public Health Association have all concluded that abortion does not cause prematurity," says Grimes.

The next speaker, Kay Phillips, heads the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina. She says this would be a difficult law for schools to follow.

"We understand the desire to reduce both numbers of pre-term births, and the number of abortions in North Carolina," said Phillips. "Senate Bill 132 is unlikely to impact either health issue. It is, however, to likely create discomfort for our state’s parents, students and educators."

Democratic Senator Gladys Robinson agreed, saying it’s possible for people on both sides of the abortion issue to find studies that back up their claims.

"The information is out there," Robinson said. "We can use whatever we want to justify why we want to do these things, but I think that we need to make sure the teachers teach what they are able to teach and educated to teach, and not go into other areas that they are not professionally educated to do."

Robinson introduced an amendment that would have removed the requirement that abortion be listed as a cause of preterm birth. The voice vote on the amendment sounded close, but the committee chairman, Senator Ralph Hise, declared it had failed. The bill is expected to land on the Senate floor soon.

Jessica Jones covers both the legislature in Raleigh and politics across the state. Before her current assignment, Jessica was given the responsibility to open up WUNC's first Greensboro Bureau at the Triad Stage in 2009. She's a seasoned public radio reporter who's covered everything from education to immigration, and she's a regular contributor to NPR's news programs. Jessica started her career in journalism in Egypt, where she freelanced for international print and radio outlets. After stints in Washington, D.C. with Voice of America and NPR, Jessica joined the staff of WUNC in 1999. She is a graduate of Yale University.
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