North Carolina’s Medically Unnecessary Abortion Restrictions & What Must be Done About Them after the Women’s Rally

This article, by NARAL NC BSW Intern Caitlin Oliver, originally appeared in the Meredith (College) Herald

I am proud to be a student of the social work profession, which has long been supportive of abortion access and the dignity and worth of every person to make their own health decisions. Now, as a Bachelor of Social Work intern at NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, every day I am faced with the harsh reality that a person’s ability to make medical decisions about their own health is under constant attack. These attacks continue to exist 45 years after the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.  Additionally, they exist despite the recent 2016 Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision that reaffirmed a woman’s constitutional right to receive an abortion without medically unnecessary obstacles.

On Jan. 29, 2018, the U.S. Senate was defeated in trying to pass a bill that would have made a 20-week abortion ban the law of the land. Though it did not pass, supporters of comprehensive reproductive health services should still be worried. This unconstitutional bill was one of many recent attacks meant to chip away at an individual’s right to bodily autonomy and self-determination.

Even though 76 percent of North Carolinians believe reproductive health care decisions should be left up to the individual making them, not politicians, North Carolina is still a state with some of the most restrictive policies surrounding abortion access.

One of North Carolina’s medically unnecessary barriers to abortion access is the arbitrary 72-hour waiting period. Another is the federal Hyde Amendment, which has been used to justify insurance bans for abortion coverage for North Carolinians who are Medicaid recipients, Peace Corps volunteers, federal prisoners, Native Americans who utilize Indian Health services, veterans, military members, and federal, state, county, and city employees. Additionally, health insurance plans offered in North Carolina through the Affordable Care Act are also prohibited from covering the costs of an abortion, except in cases of life endangerment, rape, and incest.

North Carolina is also one of only 19 states where politicians passed legislation dictating that individuals can only have an abortion up to 20 weeks after their last menstrual period, unless the individual’s life and health are endangered. However, because of the state’s many medically unnecessary barriers, individuals may be delayed in accessing an abortion until after this deadline. For example, due to insurance coverage bans on abortions, individuals may not be able to gather the funds to cover the cost of the procedure until they are at or past 20 weeks. Furthermore, the arbitrary 72-hour waiting period blocks people that are exactly 20 weeks pregnant from receiving the procedure.

Ultimately, North Carolina’s restrictions on abortion access have the most adverse impacts on people of lower income, people of color, young people, immigrants, individuals who are undocumented, and transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals. This threat to comprehensive reproductive health care highlights the reality that economic justice, racial justice, immigrant rights, and LGBTQ+ equality are all key aspects of reproductive justice.

Attempts to restrict abortion access, like the 20-week ban, do not improve health and safety, but instead strip away dignity and bodily autonomy. After the Women’s Rally on Raleigh, it is imperative that we make an effort to support the works and missions of the local social justice organizations present at the rally that are committed to increasing health care access for all North Carolinians. NARAL Pro-Choice NC, Carolina Abortion Fund, SisterSong, Triangle for Choice Clinic Escorts, and Planned Parenthood South Atlantic are just some examples. In the fight to achieve reproductive justice and health equity in North Carolina, social and political action at the local, state, and federal levels is needed to protect our constitutional right to make our own health decisions without political interference.

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