On their 49th anniversary, Roe v. Wade protections are more important than ever

This article was originally featured in NC Policy Watch.

Saturday, Jan. 22, is the 49th anniversary of Roe v Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in all 50 states. While the precedent set in that landmark case never actually guaranteed full reproductive freedom for all, it has provided crucial federal protections for abortion access in the U.S. for nearly half a century.

The anti-abortion majority on the Supreme Court will likely undo those protections when it rules later this year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Whether the Court further guts the 1973 Roe decision or overturns it altogether, most states in the country, including North Carolina, can expect to see an impact from that decision — either right away or within the next year.

For too many states, that impact could be immediate and harmful to anyone who might seek out abortion at some point in their lives. Here in North Carolina, a state with a 72-hour “waiting period,” numerous unnecessary restrictions on doctors and patient access, escalating harassment at clinics, and unjust bans on a wide range of insurance coverage, the climate is already hostile when it comes to abortion access.

That said, abortion rights advocates know that all of these barriers are still not enough for the state’s anti-abortion lawmakers, who are watching what is happening in Texas, Mississippi, and other states around the country. Given that Roe is the floor and not the ceiling for abortion access, removing this final bit of federal protection to even minimal abortion access in many states will be devastating for millions of people in this country and in our state.

Abortion is a normal and common component of reproductive healthcare, and has been for as long as people have been getting pregnant. Shutting down abortion clinics, forcing patients to scramble for funds to cover the costs, shaming patients about their actions and decisions, belittling their lives and experiences, and even banning abortion outright will not stop people from seeking abortions when they need them. It never has.

Instead, people who already struggle to access any kind of affordable and quality healthcare — including people living on low incomes, communities of color, young people, immigrant communities, and people living in rural areas — will be forced to navigate increasingly burdensome obstacles in an effort to access this time-sensitive care. As abortion becomes even further stigmatized in this restrictive climate, we will see increased criminalization of those seeking or providing abortions, adding another level to the injustices already perpetrated by our legal system.

It hasn’t always been this way. North Carolina had legalized some abortion prior to the 1973 Roe decision and was, up until 2010, considered a more moderate southern state when it came to reproductive rights. Since the ultra-conservative takeover of our state legislature in the 2010 election, however, anti-abortion lawmakers have introduced more than 30 anti-abortion bills and passed more restrictions this past decade than in the previous 35 years.

Notably, the past 10 years of abortion restrictions also run parallel to recent efforts — nationally and within North Carolina — to rig our democracy and suppress voter participation. North Carolina has become notorious in recent years for racist voter suppression laws and unconstitutionally gerrymandered maps. Efforts to rob certain communities of the right to control their own bodies go hand in hand with such efforts to consolidate power and undermine our democracy. Abortion restrictions are unpopular and dangerous, and tactics like stacking federal courts, creating hyper-partisan district maps, and disenfranchising voters to rob them of political power and entrench harmful policies further our democracy’s downward spiral.

Now is not the time for abortion rights advocates to be silent, no matter what decision the justices render later this year. We can share our personal stories and also listen compassionately to others sharing experiences different from ours. We must speak up when we hear stigmatizing, false or harmful narratives and stereotypes about people seeking or providing abortions. We have to continue to let our elected officials know we support safe and just abortion access, and that we expect them to uphold these rights, not trade them for political gain. We can donate to abortion funds and volunteer to support patients at clinics. And we can and will demand robust voter protections, fair maps, and voting rights, and use those rights to build truly representative governments at all levels that will uphold reproductive rights, health, and justice values.

The majority of Americans, like the majority of North Carolinians, support the right of all of us to make our own personal reproductive decisions, including whether or not to access abortion. Even in this moment of undemocratic restrictions of our rights, it is critical that we continue to raise our voices in support of bodily autonomy, until we achieve a world when everyone can access the reproductive healthcare we need when we need it, including abortion.

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