Asheville abortion clinic would be only one in NC to meet new restrictions

If the North Carolina General Assembly passes a bill that would change the state’s requirements for abortion clinics, Asheville’s FemCare would be the only clinic in the state able to meet the proposed guidelines.

“Our understanding is that the only center that currently meets ambulatory surgical center guidelines is FemCare in Asheville,” says Melissa Reed, vice president for public affairs of Planned Parenthood Health System. “None of the Planned Parenthood centers in the state currently meet those guidelines.”

Asheville FemCare declined to comment for this story.

In a July 2 evening session, the proposed changes to abortion clinic requirements were added to a bill related to banning Islamic or “Sharia” law. Should the bill pass with the recently added health-care component, it would require abortion clinics across the state to meet a new set of standards similar to those for outpatient surgery clinics, such as providing an onsite recovery phase for patients at the clinics as well as requiring a transfer agreement between a clinic and a hospital. Reed says that meeting the bill’s proposed standards would cost abortion clinics and centers across the state “hundreds and thousands of dollars.” The bill would also require that doctors be present in the room when women take pills that induce abortions.

Sen. Martin Nesbitt told Xpress that he’s concerned about local and statewide implications of the bill. “It wouldn’t be a good situation. It wouldn’t be a good situation for those having to come [to Buncombe] or those of us here. We aren’t trying to become the total destination for women’s health care. These centers provide mammograms, cervical screenings and do a lot of things for women; and you need more than one in the state.”

The senator, who represents Buncombe County, says that he and his staff were briefed on the issue last night after 9 p.m. This morning, Nesbitt told members of the Senate, “All of you are welcome to visit Asheville. We have one of everything and two of most … we try to provide for our people. But I don’t think that people from down here [Raleigh] ought to have to travel to Asheville to get quality health care and to exercise their constitutional rights.”

But the bill passed the Senate with a vote of 29-12 and now heads to the House for approval.

“We feel very frustrated that our facilities are already heavily regulated by the state’s department of Health and Human Services,” says Reed. “We have to have a permit and we comply with all of those regulations. … They say it’s about patient safety, but it’s really about accessing women’s health services.”

Reed also says that the local ramifications of the bill could be very serious. “People who oppose abortion have a history of being very violent targeting not only clinics [and] providers but the patients and staff who work at these clinics as well.”

On March 11, 1999, the Asheville FemCare Inc. clinic was bombed. According to a report at the time from CNN, the bomb went off about 30 minutes before the clinic was going to open at 8 a.m. No one was hurt or injured since the bomb only partially detonated. Attempts to reach the Asheville Police Department for comment were unsuccessful.

Local Rep. Susan Fisher says she remembers the incident. Though she was not in Raleigh last night or this morning, the Buncombe County representative says that she’s outraged by the provisions.

“It’s the whole idea of putting a target on Asheville. It really does sort of single us out as this place that people would attack or avoid or think of as out of the mainstream when, actually, what we’re trying to do is provide health care and services for women who would be denied otherwise.”

According to 2012 statistics from the Planned Parenthood of Asheville, the local center treated 3,058 patients last year, of which 4 percent were referred for abortions. Planned Parenthood of Asheville does not provide abortion services, only referrals.

In response to the state legislation, hundreds of women and men descended onto the state capital this morning to protest the bill’s provisions.

“The women of this state woke up and came to Raleigh this morning,” Nesbitt says.“ I think there’s a powerful enough effort to put a stop to some of this.”

— Caitlin Byrd can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 140 or cbyrd@mountainx.com.

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