While the recently-concluded session of the North Carolina General Assembly felt like it lasted forever, it was only about six months ago that a bill to make child support payments more efficient and effective passed through the House, thus meeting the legislative “crossover” deadline on its way to becoming state law.
With only 65% of owed child support regularly collected in North Carolina, the state obviously has a compelling interest in assuring children are receiving the support possible from both of their parents. Single parent households are more likely to live in poverty in North Carolina, and because women are still more likely than men to be the single primary parent – and households headed by single mothers are the family-type most likely to live in poverty – the original version of House Bill 297 seemed a good step toward increasing economic security for many Tar Heel women when it was first introduced on March 19.
You may be wondering what happened to that bill. While seemingly unrelated, this summer’s release of heavily-edited anti-Planned Parenthood videos (which have now been proven to be completely fraudulent) seems to be what happened.
On September 23, House Bill 297 was dusted off and brought back out of a Senate committee, but with all of the language about more effective child support taken out. In its place we now had a few paragraphs banning the sale of fetal tissue.
That is certainly a provocative and disturbing issue, one that might have warranted such a rushed response if there was any evidence that this was actually happening in North Carolina. But federal law already bans the sale of fetal tissue anywhere in the United States, including North Carolina.
Planned Parenthood South Atlantic (PPSAT), the local Planned Parenthood affiliate, definitely seemed to be the target of this bill – if the protest signs seen outside of local Planned Parenthood clinics in the past few weeks are any indication – but PPSAT does NOT participate in either fetal tissue donation or sales.
This just underscores the utterly political motivation to smear Planned Parenthood’s trusted name that is behind the bill. Further, recent investigations of Planned Parenthood at the national level have not turned up any evidence of wrongdoing in the 1% of health centers that do donate fetal tissue.
House Bill 297, however, also goes a step further in banning the donation of fetal tissue from abortions. We can’t be sure yet of the full impact that will have on local researchers who use fetal tissue in their work. What we do know is that RTP is a hub of groundbreaking research, and fetal tissue is a vital component in the quest to cure diseases and create new vaccines.
Unfortunately, there will be another impact from this new law that is sure to be detrimental. At the very end of House Bill 297, there is a one-sentence paragraph that effectively bans the state from ever providing any further funds for “family planning services, pregnancy prevention activities, or adolescent parenting programs,” to any organization that provides abortion services, a move clearly aimed at Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, as they are the only group that falls under that definition.
PPSAT has received approximately $135,000 in state funding through a highly competitive grant process for two highly-effective teen pregnancy prevention and sex education programs in Fayetteville and Wilmington. The teen pregnancy rate in North Carolina is still higher than the national average, but has dropped dramatically in the past few years, particularly since the passage of the Healthy Youth Act in 2009, which provided for comprehensive sex education in schools. These kinds of programs – both in schools and in the community – have been shown to work in delaying teen sexual activity, and in decreasing teen pregnancy. The future of these two programs may now be at risk since they have lost this state funding.
We started the session with legislation designed to help single parent families – many of whom may have started families at young ages – become and remain economically secure. We ended the session, however, with legislation that instead removes another tool for helping young people better navigate a healthier, safer, more secure future.
All in all, this seems a fitting conclusion to another mostly lousy session for the North Carolina General Assembly.
Tara Romano is the President of North Carolina Women United.