3:11 a.m. July 12, 2013

Zen And The Art of Vagina Maintenance

Back in May, the North Carolina House passed a bill that would come to be known as the “Family, Faith, and Freedom Protection Act,” HB695. The bill made headlines as a Sharia law ban: it prohibited the recognition of Islamic Sharia law, or any other foreign law, in NC courts. I’m not really sure why a bill is needed to protect North Carolinians from the application of foreign law in North Carolina courtrooms but hey, that’s just me.

The bill returned to the headlines with a vengeance last week when - without any notice - the Senate passed a spruced up version. This version featured a slew of extreme abortion restrictions that clung to the xenophobic bill like legislative dingleberries. See, on Tuesday July 2, during an evening committee meeting right before the holiday, Senate Republicians crammed several bills in differing states of the legislative process onto HB695. They then rushed it to approval in less than twenty-four hours. (I guess nothing says America the Free like an omnibus bill written to protect citizens from foreign religious law while simultaneously forcing domestic religious law into all the uteri at the BBQ.)

The added abortion provisions included: a “conscience protection” that would allow all healthcare personnel to opt out of providing abortions or abortion-related services, severe abortion funding limits, a ban on sex-selective abortions, and the requirements that a doctor remain in the room for the entire abortion procedure, that providers have hospital transfer agreements, and that facilities meet the standards and licensing procedures similar to ambulatory, or outpatient surgical centers. (You can see a nice breakdown of them here.) These provisions, while seemingly benign on paper, would shut down all healthcare centers that provide abortions in the state of North Carolina, save for one lone clinic in Asheville. There was no public notice. No experts were called to testify. People were blindsided.

Shit, meet ceiling fan.

Possibly due to the proverbial shit-smeared walls, after the weekend HR 695 did not go straight back to the House for concurrence; rather, in an unusual move, it went to committee for a two-hour public hearing. The House Health and Human Services Committee discussed the additions to the bill for an hour, leaving the rest of the time for expert and public comment. During the meeting, the bill’s proponents indignantly asserted that the bill’s amendments were for the sole purpose of keeping women safer by increasing regulations on abortion providers to generate a higher standard of care. They repeated this statement again and again, as though their impassioned cries for protecting the safety of women who chose to exercise their constitutionally protected right to an abortion would add some heartfelt sparkle to their prized omnibus bill. Unfortunately, you cannot polish a turd, nevermind spit-shine on a torrential downpour of hot, fetid bullshit. House Majority Leader Paul Stam had already publicly confirmed that one of the purposes of the bill was to limit abortions as severely as possible.

Which brings me to Wednesday. I’m here in Raleigh, covering this hideous bureaucratic farce. It’s late morning and I’m working in my dingy hotel room, in a building notable for its remarkably phallic dimensions. I’m planning on checking out and heading over to the Legislative building around noon; there’s a protest at 1:00 P.M. and the House session starts an hour later. Rumor has it HB 695 is going to hit the floor for a vote. I check the legislative calendars for the upteenth time, but the bill hasn’t shown up anywhere yet. Registering my stomach’s displeasure at its neglect, I make plans for food and jump in the shower.

Fifteen minutes later I am incredulity wrapped in a cheap, white bath towel. Soaking wet, sans glasses, I squint at a deluge of tweets informing me that HB 695 is now SB 353. What the fuck? They added abortion legislation to the Motorcycle Safety Act?!

I got really sweaty running to the Legislature building.

In a big fuck you to everyone, that morning Judiciary Subcommittee B approved a modified version of the Motorcycle Safety Act. And by modified, I mean, crammed with all of the extremely restrictive abortion provisions that before had been staplegunned to the anti-Sharia law bill. All of them. To a piece of legislation written to “increase penalties for unsafe movements by drivers that threaten the property and safety of motorcyclists.” Really. Except this slew of provisions had delicate little tweaks that reflected responses to some of the issues brought up in the previous day’s committee meeting. These tweaks included notably imprecise language and the fact that HB 695 was going to require a couple of years of study before the GOP could so firmly insert themselves deep into the collective uterus of North Carolina’s women.

No one knew. Someone tipped off a reporter three minutes before the meeting started, but the buzz Wednesday amongst the Capital Press Corps wasn’t conclusive as to who got the tip. Even other members of the committee were blindsided by the unannounced, underhanded tactic: Representative Joe Sam Queen took to his Twitter once the meeting started to announce, almost thirty minutes after the listed start time of the meeting,that he hadn’t known this was going to happen.

The Motorcycle Safety Act was a short, non-controversial bill, which might have made it ideal for tacking on a fuckton of restrictive, anti-woman, anti-healthcare demands. But seriously. North Carolina. This isn’t an omnibus, this is a fucking fixed-gear bike dragging a storage container of screaming women. Perhaps the hysterical reality that the #MotorcycleVagina hashtag even exists says more to that end than this entire article ever could.

Apparently, abortion politics in North Carolina have jumped the shark. While underhanded tactics are by no means unheard of, politicians usually show the common decency to engage in a modicum of subtlety. But this? This is the General Assembly of North Carolina squatting gingerly over Roe v. Wade and grunting out a glorious, steaming turd.

It should come as little surprise, then, that on Thursday, 11 July, the House passed the new-and-improved version the Senate’s motorcycle safety bill. The three-hour debate was a farce, an act of bureaucratic masturbation, a gesture of feigned respect to the democratic process. Those opposed to the bill presented a series of well-structured arguments, each focused on yet another problematic aspect of the controversial piece of legislation to a room full of empty seats, disinterested and uninvolved men, and a handful of Republicans tapped to argue the majority opinion with the ever popular methods of “refusal to deviate from talking points” and “emotional, conjecture-filled statements of dubious veracity.”

A personal favorite was Rep. Pat McElraft, who recited - through a warbled, teary voice - a list of “vaginal organisms that can be transmitted patient-to-patient” at abortion clinics. While the image of ladies tribbing in the doctor’s office is certainly appreciated, her speech was the usual fear-mongering, emotional call to shut down clinics in the name of “women’s health.” It’s hard to take anyone seriously who stands up and calls Streptococcus pyogenes “the flesh-eating bacteria.” Necrotizing fasciitis is caused by a variety of organisms and S. pyogenes is a common bacterium that infects over 700 million people a year. But sure, next time she gets strep throat, tell her it’s the “flesh-eating bacteria.”

But I digress. It’s easy to fall into that deep, dark hole of picking apart absurd arguments or to nestle into the warm comforts of the prodigious evidence that support the continued existence and importance of women’s health care centers, but neither tactic is a salve. If I learned anything during my stay in Raleigh this week it is that anything you find, any voice you raise, any fallacy you point out, the only people that are going to listen are already on your side. Protests now are more support group than statement, hundreds of tired, frustrated people coming together to witness the dissolution of bodily autonomy from the comfort zone of an angry horde. Ever the cynic, even I was blown away by the pointlessness of Thursday’s debate and the audacity of this governing body. As Rep. Rick Glazier pointed out, they did not even attempt to include information arguing the necessity of the proposed bill; he noted a complete absence of legislative findings, testimony, studies, or evidence of any kind.

“The arrogance of the House, determined to impose its ideological will, is breathtaking.”

Speaking to the empty chairs on the floor, the public gallery at full capacity, he called the SB 353 a legislative fusillade aimed at the woman’s right to choose.

And with a vote of 74-41 and today’s statement from Governor Pat McCory that he will renege on his campaign promise not to restrict abortion access and sign the bill once it passes the Senate, it appears that the bomb bay doors are preparing to open.