The below opinion piece, co-authored by Pro-Choice North Carolina Executive Director Tara Romano and Policy Advisor for Action NC Gloria De Los Santos, ran in NC Newsline.
For the past decade, anti-abortion lawmakers have needlessly and relentlessly attacked our right to bodily autonomy, and our right to access safe and legal abortion care in North Carolina. These lawmakers have been especially ruthless this session in their attempt to take away the right of all North Carolinians to access an abortion. Access to legal abortion in North Carolina is disappearing, as we know anti-abortion lawmakers will not stop with the latest ban they just passed.
There are already too many unnecessary restrictions that make it difficult to get an abortion in our state. These include arbitrary and political gestational limits, bans on telehealth provision of medication abortion, bans on insurance coverage of abortion care, a burdensome and unnecessary 72-hour waiting period, and targeted and medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion providers and clinics.
As we’ve seen in other countries, and in other time periods, where abortion has been severely restricted, these restrictions don’t stop people from seeking abortions; they just make them less safe when people do seek out this common component of reproductive healthcare. This restrictive environment also includes increased risks of criminalization of pregnancy outcomes in addition to the harmful impacts to one’s health.
There are also the harms that will come with increasing forced pregnancies. The United States already has an abysmally high rate of maternal mortality in comparison to other similarly situated countries, and North Carolina has a higher-than-average rate of maternal mortality compared with other states. Those poor rates are even worse when breaking out the numbers for pregnant people based on race – in 2020 Black women were three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women.
Restricting abortion access is often easy for lawmakers. Correcting the deep racial inequities in our systems that lead to these disparate outcomes is much more difficult, and there seems to be little political will from our legislative leadership to address these issues. A package of bills introduced earlier this session to start to address some of these racial disparities in Black maternal health never even got a hearing.
Restrictions on abortion will always fall hardest on those with the least access to any healthcare resources, and the restrictions in SB20 are no different. If you live in a rural community, don’t have access to reliable transportation or childcare, don’t have access to paid sick leave or struggle to pay your bills, the requirement created in SB20 that patients make three medically unnecessary in-person visits for medication abortion is going to make it extremely difficult to access care. Young people, immigrant communities, People of Color, and people living on low incomes are among the groups that will be most impacted by this bill.
This piece of policy, which revised another bill that had already passed in the legislature, was not even introduced as a bill to be debated and amended, but as a fully formed conference report. Without committee hearings or public input, both chambers passed the bill within 48 hours of it being revealed. Democrats slammed this rush to passage. On the House floor, House Democratic caucus leader Robert Reives (D-Chatham) called voting on “the most important thing we vote on this session” within a week “unthinkable.”
This bill not only dehumanizes people who seek abortion and those who provide that care but is putting countless lives at risk with these new restrictions. Adding limited access to paid family leave (for some families, not all) and raising state subsidies on childcare (without addressing the childcare wait list in our state) is of limited value when families across the state will lack access to essential and comprehensive health care services and other social net services that are woefully underfunded in our state. It is cynical politics at its worst to ask us to make these kinds of trade-offs. Contraception, pregnancy care, abortion, childcare, family leave – these are all needed for a robust policy landscape that prioritizes maternal and family care. To present paid leave as a substitute for healthcare access, including emergency care, is not only reckless, but it’s immoral.
North Carolina legislators across the state must act now to support a veto that would protect abortion rights and the decisions of their constituents who can get pregnant. Abortion is a safe and common medical procedure and a human right. North Carolinians should determine what they do with their bodies- not lawmakers.