Suffering Under Liberty and the Reproductive Health Policies of North Carolina

Guest post by Brittney Cobb, Charlotte Dominguez, and Andi DeRoin.  The authors are first-year social work graduate students at North Carolina State University. Along with completing advanced generalist practice education, they are advocating for policy change at the state level and fighting for social justice, equity, and a healthy community.

Reproductive health justice is vast, yet abortion seems to always be at the forefront of America’s consciousness. Over the past year, North Carolina conservatives have launched a new political offensive to limit health care access, legislate reproductive decisions, and disregard the bodily integrity of half the population. Though attacks like this are happening across the country, the recent legislative actions of North Carolina officials strike close to home for us North Carolina State University social work graduate students as we prepare to enter the career field.

Despite protests that SB 353 could further restrict access to abortion, and reminders that such action went against his campaign promises, Governor McCrory signed Senate Bill 353 into law on July 29th 2013.  Under this law, 1) medical providers in North Carolina have the right to refuse to perform abortions (despite already being able to do so), 2) sex-selective abortions are banned (despite having no evidence of prevalence), 3) providers must be present for an entire surgical abortion procedure or the administration of the first pill to induce a chemical abortion (despite no evidence of adverse safety or health effects), 4) the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) must write and enforce new rules for health clinics, which could include new ambulatory care standards and 5) motor vehicle operators are responsible when colliding with motorcycles they do not see.  Yes, you read that correctly– our legislators stuck limiting health care regulations onto a motorcycle-safety bill.

Redundant legislation and foggy rhetoric do not ensure women’s safety, nor do they prevent harsh interpretation from restricting access to abortion. Opponents of the bill fear the new regulations could potentially force health clinics to close their doors if they cannot meet the new standards.  National and State medical groups attest that the guidelines clinics currently run under are sufficient, and enforcing new regulations are unnecessary.  The effects of these new DHHS rules are inciting community uproar and concern.  Negative reaction from the bill comes from what we believe are the true motives of those who pushed for it to be signed into law.

To put it bluntly, those with a uterus will suffer under SB 353, but communities which rely on clinics for comprehensive health care will suffer the most. If clinics are forced to close under the new DHHS rules, many marginalized populations (which already have limited access to health care) will become even more pushed aside–by NC legislators. Without availability to those clinics, marginalized women will lose access to reproductive health care which could result in increased unwanted pregnancy and no safe access to abortions. Their reproductive livelihoods are being threatened by policies put in place that limit their access to these clinics.

It seems that the main moral value driving this policy is the right to life, while a woman’s right to bodily autonomy drives opposition.  The heart of the reproductive health debate seems to involve where priority is placed: on the unborn, or on the pregnant female.  Senate Bill 353 does not deny the right to abortion, but it infers a proposition to end them. For those who support a woman’s right to have complete control of her reproductive health, arguments such as these do not overshadow the existing life of a mother.

Abortion and reproductive health care providers, as well as individual advocates across the state, have made their voices heard both during and after the consideration and passage of SB 353. Though there is inspiration from past movements related to such ingrained and divided social justice issues, nothing seems to adequately prepare us for today’s fight.  The only seemingly viable option is to attempt to network with other states; together we can comprehensively and independently lobby lawmakers.  As reproductive rights are dismantled, we can harness the resulting disgust and outrage, empower all individuals to stand up for personal liberty and bodily integrity, and influence our state, our region, and our country.

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