Rape Disclosure Stops Debate in Shocked House

Publication
The Charlotte Observer
Author
Craig Jarvis and Lynn Bonner
Published
Jul 27, 2011

By a single vote, the state House on Tuesday overrode the governor's veto of a bill intended to discourage abortions by requiring women to wait 24 hours, receive counseling and be shown an ultrasound before the operation can take place.

Lawmakers on both sides of the issue once again brought impassioned arguments to the floor. But none were as startling as Rep. Ruth Samuelson's debate-ending disclosure that she had once been raped. She was responding to some Democrats who argued that the bill would traumatize rape victims and in effect give rapists parental rights.

"Respecting her choice is traumatic and victimizing?" Samuelson said. "I'll tell you what's traumatic and victimizing."

Samuelson's remarks came at the conclusion of a lengthy debate, and she immediately moved to vote on the bill. When the override succeeded, pro-life supporters in the gallery broke into applause, and were gaveled to order by Speaker Thom Tillis.

Less dramatic was a vote to override Gov. Bev Perdue's veto of an unemployment insurance bill. The House also tried but failed to override her veto of legislation that would require voters show photo identification at the polls.

Tillis has vowed the legislature will try to override any bills on which Republicans can muster a three-fifths majority. But the abortion bill had been one vote short of veto-proof since the House voted to approve it in June.

On Monday night, though, word reached Republican leaders that one Democrat had changed his mind. Rep. James Crawford, one of five conservative Democrats who have bucked their party on some key issues this year, would support the override.

Crawford, who represents Granville and Vance counties, on Tuesday joined three other Democrats who previously voted with Republicans to tip the scales with a 72- 47 vote. Samuelson, a Mecklenburg County Republican who was the primary sponsor of the bill, said supporters have been working for the past month on convincing holdouts to change their vote. When she heard about Crawford, she said, she called him to confirm his change of heart Monday night. Samuelson, who is the majority whip, said she was elated.

"As a whip, you don't relax until that vote shows up on the board," she said. "But we were really relieved, we were pleased, and I would say today I'm in awe of what we've just done and look forward to seeing what will be done for the women of North Carolina."

McGuirt: 'big brother'

Rep. Frank McGuirt, a Democrat of Anson and Union counties, saw it differently.

"This is big brother bashing its way into the OR (operating room), into the relationship between the doctor and his patient, and this is wrong," McGuirt said. "I cannot believe it's coming from the party in this chamber that advocates for less government."

The override now goes to the Senate, where Samuelson said Republican leaders have been assured it will succeed. The Senate voted 29-20 to approve the bill in June - one vote short of the veto-proof majority it needed. Wake County Republican Sen. Richard Stevens did not vote.

The House and Senate are in session to approve new congressional and General Assembly districts, but the Republican-controlled legislature has vowed to challenge as many of Perdue's vetoes as possible. Last week, the Senate overrode all six of its vetoed bills. On Monday, the House matched three of those overrides.

Tillis said Tuesday he didn't think Republicans could muster enough votes to override the veto of a bill that prevented the state's largest teachers' association from collecting dues through an automatic checkoff. The House could still take override votes on a gas-drilling bill that is opposed by environmentalists and favored by the energy industry.

The House failed to override the voter ID bill, but Republicans used a legislative maneuver to keep the bill alive for reconsideration later this year or next. The vote was 67-52.

The House voted 72-47 to override Perdue's veto of a bill on unemployment insurance and the Employment Security Commission. The Senate canceled her veto earlier this month, so the measure is law.

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