A bill requiring North Carolina educators to teach that abortions are linked to subsequent premature births won initial Senate approval Thursday.
The amended version of the bill now mentions other factors associated with premature births, at the suggestion of Democrats who questioned the scientific consensus around the abortion link. The bill generated heated debate between health experts and lawmakers at an earlier committee meeting. It won committee approval in a close voice vote that Democrats tried to contest.
The bill requires those in grades seven and higher to learn about the risk factors associated with premature birth. The bill originally made specific reference only to abortion but now includes smoking, alcohol consumption, drug use and inadequate prenatal care. Infants born prematurely face greater risks of developmental impediments and death.
Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke and the bill's lead sponsor, cited the conclusions of the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force, which found in 2012 that more than 125 publications have linked abortion to premature birth. It also included analysis from the General Assembly's research staff that placed annual costs attributable to health complications from abortion-linked premature birth at $98 million.
"If there's a rationale for including the risks of smoking," Daniel said, then there's a justification for including abortion as well.
Democrats and expert opponents have cast doubt on that consensus, saying the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other reputable groups don't support the science behind linking abortion to premature births. They argue the bill is an attempt to base curriculum on political ideology.
"I'm concerned about teaching the students what is our religion, philosophical beliefs, minority views, as some absolute scientific evidence," said Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash.
Bryant said she wanted to make sure the bill wouldn't stifle debate about the scientific validity of the risk factors. Daniel said the bill wouldn't preempt that debate.
"I don't see why there can't be a discussion about the scientific basis of that, and I think that might in fact be a valuable discussion," he said.
Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, objected to a final vote so she could fine-tune an amendment adding the health risks posed by elective cesarean-section and induced-labor births.
The bill passed 41-5 but will return for a final vote next week. It will then head to the House.