A North Carolina House panel endorsed a bill Tuesday requiring educators to teach that abortions are linked to later premature births, sending the measure to the full body for approval.
If passed without changes on the House floor, the bill would move on to Gov. Pat McCrory. An amended version of the bill that passed the Senate with Democratic support last month requires students to learn about other risk factors for preterm births besides having an abortion, but House Democrats pushed for additional changes.
Opponents of the bill have questioned the scientific basis for linking abortion to preterm births later in life and have called the bill an attempt to rewrite curriculum to align with conservative political ideology. Supporters say a growing body of studies supports the connection and preterm birth costs the state millions every year from health complications attributable to abortion-linked premature birth.
The bill requires those in grades seven and higher to learn about the risk factors associated with premature birth, specifically smoking, alcohol consumption, drug use, abortion 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, has 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. He says that report also clearly lays out the costs in human life and expenses from health complications.
"There are thousands of preterm births every year," he said Tuesday. "It adds to our infant mortality rate."
Democrats again listed major health groups that don't support the science behind linking abortion to premature births, including the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Democrats took issue with telling educators which risk factors they have to teach and the bill's use of the term "cause" instead of "risk" to describe them. They unsuccessfully pressed for amendments to enact those changes.
"I can't vote for this bill because I think that it is incorrect to say you can teach about preventable causes," said Verla Insko, D-Orange. "You can teach about preventable risk factors."
Republicans said Insko was raising a semantic argument because either term implied a causal relationship. Rep. James Fulghum, R- Wake and a retired neurosurgeon, said Insko's amendment raises a "distinction without a difference."
The House committee approved the measure 13-7.
Abortion-rights groups immediately opposed the decision, saying the bill is more about politics than health education.
"The bill is not about protecting or promoting our teen's health, it's about inserting anti-choice and medically unsupported rhetoric into our classrooms," said the state chapter of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League in a statement.