COLUMBIA, SC — Last night, Senate Republicans in North Carolina stunned their Democratic colleagues—and observers and media—when they quietly tacked a slate of abortion restrictions onto a bill banning Sharia Law, and then gave it initial approval less than two hours after notifying the public.
“The measure was unveiled unexpectedly during an unusual late-day committee meeting,” reported WRAL in Raleigh, one of the local news outlets scrambling to cover the breaking news story. “It combines several bills in different stages of the legislative process into one omnibus measure.” More from WRAL:
Until 5:30 pm, the measure on the committee’s calendar only reflected a bill that dealt with the family law provisions of the [Sharia Law] bill. That measure itself was controversial when it cleared the House, with opponents fearing it could interfere with recognition of U.S. law in foreign courts.
However, almost immediately, the committee took up an amendment to the bill that dealt with abortion.
The bombshell move came exactly one week after Wendy Davis stood for 13 hours in the Texas Senate, filibustering similar restrictions to abortions in the Lone Star State. The bill there ultimately failed after a galvanized public disrupted the chamber and ran out the clock before a final roll call. (Richard Parker wrote for CJR last week how the Texas press covered that rapidly unfolding story.)
In North Carolina last night, Democratic Sen. Josh Stein showed his surprise at the shrewd moves Republicans used to get their abortion measures to a vote.
“We go in there and it is … it has six—five or six—new provisions on abortion,” Stein said to colleagues on the floor last night. “What is the relationship between Sharia Law and abortion?”
Stein said rules require proposed substitutes to bills in committee must be given to lawmakers the night before so they can read them and talk with constituents about concerns before debating them in committee. I didn’t see any initial reporting on the rules angle last night—did Republicans break the rules or not? —but I would have liked to.
When it comes to the rest of the story, WRAL clearly led the coverage with multiple stories on its state politics page, and on-camera breakdowns. Reporter Mark Binker came out with a solid explainer around 7:30 pm (since updated multiple times) about what had happened, which was picked up by national media like The Atlantic Wire and The Huffington Post. His initial piece also listed the provisions of the anti-abortion measures lawmakers were proposing, and quoted sources who indicated that pro-life advocates had apparently been given advance notice of the move, while the pro-choice side had been caught off guard. Reported Binker:
“They’re doing it quietly on 4th of July weekend because they’ve seen what’s going on in Texas and know that women will turn out,” Melissa Reed, VP of Public Policy for Planned Parenthood Health Systems said, referring to the protests surrounding a similar bill in Texas. She said Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice advocates had no idea the measure would be taken up today.
Lobbyists with nonprofits that have religious or moral purposes, including the Family Policy Council, Christian Action League and N.C. Values Coalition, were in the room for the committee debate and the subsequent Senate floor debate. Senators noted that those lobbyists were given notice of the bill and its contents ahead of time.
As the news was breaking in North Carolina, in New York, Rachel Maddow went off-script during her prime-time MSNBC show to address it.
“This came out of nowhere,” she said, calling it a “legislative ambush.”
At about 7:30pm, Buzzfeed had a readable copy of the bill on its website. By 9pm, WRAL’s Laura Leslie had a piece putting the story into national perspective. She detailed how the North Carolina abortion measures follow similar ones in Texas and Ohio, explained the instances where the bills differed, and also why lawmakers are attempting to restrict access at the state level nationwide. Per Leslie:
Because of the Roe v. Wade case and subsequent decisions, states can’t ban abortion outright. But they can make it more difficult to get, and the current trend is to accomplish that by targeting clinics and doctors through what some call “TRAP” laws—Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers.
Here was Binker and Leslie in their wrap last night describing the state of play:
On the newspaper side, the Raleigh News & Observer had a piece late last night, but readers not familiar with the story might have been forgiven if they thought the vote was routine; the first quote in the story came from a supporter of the legislation about why it might be needed, and the story didn’t mention until the eighth paragraph how “the bill popped up as a surprise.” The Charlotte Observer, meanwhile, ran with the N&O’s story on its website.
Posting online at around 11 pm, the Asheville Citizen-Times published an Associated Press report. The AP was the only outlet I noticed that described the Republicans pushing the bill as “social conservatives. The AP’s was also the only print piece I saw—though WRAL’s Binker and Leslie mentioned it late into their evening wrap session—that brought into the mix some needed context about Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. (UPDATE: The N&O had this context in their story last night as well.) The Republican governor, the AP, wrote, had “said during last fall’s campaign he wasn’t interested in signing additional abortion restrictions into law.” More:
During a televised debate last October, McCrory was asked which additional abortion restrictions he would agree to sign into law. McCrory responded simply, “None.”
Things are changing fast on North Carolina’s political landscape and, as The Atlantic pointed out this week, “With a Republican takeover of state government and weekly protests in Raleigh, the Tar Heel State is the front line in America’s partisan battle.” In April, I wrote about the challenges the press faces covering it all.
This morning, the North Carolina Senate continues debate on the Sharia law/abortion bill. (For more context on legislative efforts to ban Sharia Law and the coverage of same, see this recent piece by Deron Lee). WRAL and others are livestreaming debate. You can bet more people—reporters included—will be watching today.
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