What do bills about motorcycles, nursing homes, and tax credits have to do with abortion?
Well, nothing. But try telling that to some conservative lawmakers, who seem to be willing to do just about anything to get anti-abortion laws passed—including tacking them on to completely unrelated legislation. This seems to be an increasingly popular—and increasingly frustrating—trend.
Just before the Fourth of July holiday, lawmakers in North Carolina added sweeping abortion regulations to an anti-Sharia bill. When Republican Gov. Pat McCrory vowed to veto the hybrid abortion/Sharia legislation, members of his own party added the provisions to the “Motorcycle Safety Act.” After three hours of debate, the newly renamed “Health and Safety Law Changes” passed the North Carolina House on Thursday. It now heads to the state Senate for approval. The governor could still veto it, but both the House and Senate have enough conservative votes to override it, according to CNN.
But this is far from the first time abortion regulations have been added to completely unrelated bills. Often, these last-minute extras simply leave legislation at a standstill and politicians on both sides feeling frustrated.
In June 2012, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul offered up an amendment clarifying that life begins at conception to a flood insurance bill. A fed-up Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would refuse a vote on the amendment.
“This is ridiculous, that somebody says I’m not going to let this bill goes forward unless I have a vote on when life begins. I am not going to do that, and I think I speak for the majority of senators,” Reid said. “Now, if the Republicans won’t stand up to the person who is going to do that, I’m not going to. I have tried my best to deal with these issues that have nothing to do with a piece of legislation.”
The bill died in Congress.
A 2010 utilities bill in Kansas, a 2012 tax-credit measure in New Hampshire, Kentucky transportation and child-care facilities bills in 2011, and a 2008 legislative meeting times resolution in Tennessee all got the abortion treatment as well. None of the original bills passed.
In Connecticut, a state senator killed a 2011 tanning-bed bill by inserting a last-minute abortion amendment. The bill would’ve required children under 18 to learn about the risks of tanning and have their parents sign a permission slip for them at tanning salons. At the tail-end of the legislative session, State Sen. Michael McLachlan halted the bill’s passage by adding an amendment that required parental permission for abortions, according to the News Times.
The Republican from Danbury defended his decision: “If you can have parental consent for minors for ear-piercing or tanning, why shouldn't you have parental consent for minors for abortions?”
And surprisingly enough, nursing home legislation seems to be a hot ticket for anti-abortion measures as well. Leave it to Florida: In 2010, senators added an ultrasound provision to a routine measure regulating nursing homes—without public testimony in the final days of a legislative session. The amendment mandated most women to pay for an ultrasound and listen to a description of the fetus before having an abortion. Even though it passed both the House and Senate, Independent Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed it. And in 2011, lawmakers in Virginia voted to make it the first state to require hospital-like standards for clinics that perform first-trimester abortions—even though the original bill was simply for “infection prevention and disaster preparedness at hospitals and nursing homes.”
So why are lawmakers allowed to add amendments onto unrelated legislation all willy-nilly? Are they doing it to draw attention to themselves, to curse and deadlock legislation, or because they truly believe in it?
There’s no easy answer to that, unfortunately. But one culprit is a legislative term called “riders,” which is defined by the Senate as an “informal term for a nongermane amendment to a bill or an amendment to an appropriation bill that changes the permanent law governing a program funded by the bill.” Translation: Feel free to add whatever the heck you want onto any bill. And go ahead, introduce a “wrecking amendment” to manipulate a bill and guarantee it’s not passed.
Organizations and politicians alike frown upon this convoluted system. In regards to the current North Carolina bill, “It is a disgrace to North Carolina that legislators have again resorted to sneak attacks to move their anti-women’s health agenda forward,” said Melissa Reed, vice president of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood. Democratic Rep. Joe Sam Queen said, “The process here is just dead wrong.”
Requests for comment from NARAL Pro-Choice America and National Right to Life were unavailable as of press time.