Respect for Reproductive Choice

This article originally appeared on Stronger NC's website, as part of their Women's Rights week of action. 

Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v Wade that legalized abortion across the country in 1973, North Carolina had already made it legal to obtain abortion in certain instances. Following Colorado and California, the North Carolina General Assembly in 1967 legalized abortion in the cases of rape/incest, instances of severe fetal abnormalities, or danger to the life/health of the pregnant person. Unfortunately, North Carolina has spent the intervening years, particularly the past decade, shifting from a state that was relatively progressive on abortion rights to one that is downright hostile.

Anti-abortion lawmakers and their supporters began chipping away at abortion access as soon as the 1973 Supreme Court decision was handed down, banning abortion after 20 weeks (arbitrarily, and in direct contradiction to the Roe v Wade standard against pre-viability bans). They also started laying the groundwork for allowing medical professionals to refuse to provide a range of reproductive health care options, as well as refuse to refer patients to where they could get the care they needed. (And in 2011, they started giving tax dollars to fake health clinics – “crisis pregnancy centers” – that actively deceive and mislead people about sexual health, abortion and contraception).

In 1978, North Carolina was progressive in creating a state abortion fund that helped low-income patients access abortion care. That program was eventually defunded, and through the efforts of anti-abortion lawmakers there is currently little private or public insurance that covers abortion in North Carolina (read more here about current laws).

After attacking the reproductive rights of low-income patients, anti-choice lawmakers also targeted young patients, another group with little political power. In the 1990’s, parental consent was required for any minor seeking an abortion. While many minors facing an unplanned pregnancy will talk to one or both parents about the situation, others often have good reason for seeking help elsewhere, including fear of abuse or punishment. A judicial bypass exists for minors who cannot get parental consent, but the process can be confusing, intimidating and is not always confidential.

When anti-abortion politicians took control of both chambers of the General Assembly and the Governor’s office in 2012, North Carolina saw a slew of anti-abortion laws passed in subsequent legislative sessions. This included a 72-hour waiting period before obtaining an abortion, during which the patient (and patient’s parent, if a minor) must hear a state-written script about abortion that includes medically unnecessary and inaccurate information. The provision of abortion via telemedicine was also prohibited, limiting access for rural patients.

There were also a number of bills passed designed to intimidate both providers and patients, including:

  • Broadening who could sue an abortion provider for claims that they did not follow all of the recently enacted, medically unnecessary restrictions. In addition to intimidating doctors out of performing abortions, this also leaves patients vulnerable to their medical decisions being made public.
  • Banning providers from performing abortion if they believe it may be a “sex-selective” abortion. There is no evidence this practice exists in the U.S. and encourages racial profiling of patients.
  • DHHS is required to collect and stockpile ultrasounds for patients who have an abortion after 16 weeks.  This is about second-guessing providers, and intimidating patients with confidentiality concerns.

As we enter into the 2019 -2020 legislative session, we are seeing more anti-abortion legislation being introduced. H53/S52, a bill to require doctors to give out medically false information about unproven procedures designed to “stop” an abortion is waiting to move through committee. H54/S51, a bill to arbitrarily ban a safe and common method of abortion has also been introduced. These bills seek to interfere with a patient’s personal medical decision, and to interfere with a doctor’s practice.

All of these restrictions have been passed with one goal – to make it difficult, if not impossible, to access safe and legal abortion in North Carolina. These restrictions fall hardest on the communities who have traditionally had difficulty accessing affordable, quality health care – young people, low-income communities, rural communities, immigrant communities, people of color, and LGBTQ communities.  For too long, opponents to reproductive freedom have played politics with people’s lives. We know that all kinds of people get abortions, no matter their politics, their religion, or their backgrounds. People are making deeply personal decisions about the situations they are in, and they need our support, not our judgments from the sidelines. The majority of North Carolinians support access to safe and legal abortion, and it’s time our lawmakers respected that.

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