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Left Legislative Update

Court Rules Against Abortions for Poor Women


The State Supreme ruled recently that poor women in North Carolina have no right to state-funded abortions. The Court ruled against a Durham woman who claimed the state discriminated against poor women by paying for medical procedures and refusing to pay for abortion. The court decision also made no exception in its ruling for abortions necessary to save the life of the mother. Anti-Abortion activists hailed the ruling as a validation of the dramatic reduction in the state abortion fund in the last two years and another endorsement of their view that taxpayers should not have to pay for abortion services.

After Congress prohibited Medicaid funding of abortions in the late 1970's, the General Assembly established a state fund to pay for abortions for women who couldn't afford them. In 1995, the General Assembly cut that fund from $1.2 million to $50,000 at the insistence of the new Republican majority in the House. The legislature also put tough restrictions on the use of the much smaller fund. Only one woman has had an abortion paid for by the state since the law was changed and the fund was reduced. The Court decision said no person has the constitutional right to have the state pay for medical care. Apparently the majority of the court believes that the state may pick and choose which poor people to help with what procedure when providing medical care.

The ruling leaves the question of abortions for the poor squarely in the hands of the General Assembly, no comfort to the women in the state who seek abortions and cannot afford them. The court decision gives legal support to those lawmakers who have made choice and reproductive rights only available to women with means.

The decision also re-energized the Christian Right and their talk show allies to increase their attacks on a woman's right to choose. They and the lawmakers that support them will continue to work to make state abortion laws more restrictive. This past session the House passed a bill that would require a woman to wait 24 hours and undergo counseling before having an abortion and another bill to prohibit the use of a rarely used abortion procedure. The Senate did not take up either bill for debate but both proposals can be considered when the General Assembly reconvenes next May.

Abortion opponents have consistently opposed the state paying for abortions for poor women on the grounds that their tax dollars should not be used for something they find morally wrong. That argument persuades many moderates who claim to be pro-choice to support the elimination of state funded abortions. By the same logic, people who are morally opposed to the death penalty should be able to end it since our tax dollars are used to kill people in Central Prison.

House Republicans have gotten most of the credit or blame for all but ending state funded abortions and it is true that the fund was sharply reduced when they took over the House. But this is no Republican solo effort. The Democratic Senate agreed to the dramatic cuts. Even worse, this year the Democratic Senate leadership stopped an effort by Wake County Senator Brad Miller to ease the restrictions on the fund so at least the $50,000 would be available to poor women.

Gov. Jim Hunt's spokesperson said in a newspaper story about the Court ruling that the Governor's position has been crystal clear, that women from all walks of life ought to have the same opportunities to access their legal options. That's a laudable position, but it has not been backed up by much political muscle. Hunt proposed restoring the fund once since his return to the Governor's mansion. The last two sessions he has not proposed it and he has never used the tremendous political influence of his office to restore it. The Governor's position is crystal clear. He thinks the poor women of North Carolina deserve the same access to abortion as wealthy women. He is just not willing to fight for it. Apparently the position is a focus group loser.

More DOT news...time for an investigation?

More revelations have come out the incident involving the Columbus County man who wants his campaign contribution to Governor Hunt returned. James Cartrette says he was promised a seat on the Board of Transportation after donating $24,500 to Hunt's reelection campaign and wants his money back since he was not appointed to the Board. Hunt's spokesman denies any deal was made and says Cartrette will not get his money back.

Letters that Cartrette wrote to Hunt and his campaign finance chairman Jim Bennett recently became public. These letters paint a disturbing picture of how state government works in the Hunt Administration. At one point Cartrette writes that the DOT Secretary called and ask Cartrette to make another large donation to get a "seat at the table"

Most of the controversy so far has surrounded the alleged deal between the campaign and Cartrette to solicit contributions. But an even more disturbing part of the story is that the sitting Secretary of Transportation, Garland Garrett, was raising money for the Governor from a man he clearly knew wanted a seat on the Transportation.

Garrett is a state employee, paid by the taxpayers. Did he make the calls on state time, on a state phone? Why is the Secretary of Transportation raising money at all at any time? Most importantly, when is the Governor going to answer questions about this whole episode ?

  The LLU is a weekly review of state politics, published via e-mail by the Common Sense foundation. For information or subscriptions call 821-9270.
* The Governor's office may be reached at 800-662-7952.

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