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Proposed abortion law hits hurdle in North Carolina

By Marti Maguire

RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - Proposed new safety standards on abortion clinics in North Carolina hit a snag on Tuesday after Republican lawmakers said they would consult more with state regulators before deciding whether to vote on them.

The bill, which would require abortion clinics to meet the same safety standards as ambulatory surgical centers, passed the Republican-controlled state Senate last week in a 24-hour span of activity that the state's Republican governor criticized as hurried.

If lawmakers do not pass the new standards before their current session ends, which could be as soon as next week, they will have to wait until January to revisit the issue.

Nine states have similar safety standards on the books.

Texas lawmakers are considering the new standards, which also require a doctor to be present when women take the so-called "abortion pill," even as widespread protests take place at the state Capitol in Austin. On Monday, a judge in Wisconsin temporarily blocked a new law that would require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges in nearby hospitals.

In North Carolina, the safety standards were tacked on to an unrelated bill with no public notice or hearing last week, and quickly pushed through the state Senate.

Opponents celebrated the delay but cautioned that the battle is not over.

"It's a small victory," said Democratic State Senator Earline Parmon.

The Senate passage of the safety standards sparked protests and was the focus of a "Moral Monday" demonstration that drew an estimated 2,000 people to the capitol building on Monday night.

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory criticized the Senate for pushing the abortion legislation through in relative secrecy, and House leaders responded by holding a public hearing on Tuesday.

At the hearing, North Carolina Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos said funding more frequent inspections of abortion clinics might go further in ensuring safety.

Her staff estimated that the measure would raise the cost of building a clinic by about $1 million.

Republican sponsors of the measure said they expect to work on the bill over the next two days, although legislative rules prohibit them from amending the same bill at this stage.

Opponents told lawmakers the changes would take away access to safe and legal abortions for women.

"The majority of North Carolinians want you all to focus on jobs, the economy and increasing access to health care, not stripping away a woman's choices," said Suzanne Buckley, Executive Director at NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina.

But supporters, mostly Republicans, said the higher standards will increase safety.

"We're not here to take away the rights of women," said North Carolina state Senator Warren Daniel, a Republican who helped push the Senate legislation toward passage. "We're taking away the right of an industry to operate health clinics under substandard conditions."

(Editing By Karen Brooks and Bernard Orr)

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