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.

Blog for Choice 2013! 40 more years of Roe!

by Erin Arizzi

Today, pro-choice women and men all over the country took part in NARAL Pro Choice America’s 8th annual “Blog For Choice Day.” The goal of the initiative is to have prominent journalists and critics speak out about how they feel regarding choice in America, but it’s also an opportunity for every person to enter her/his voice into this important dialogue.

Here, we’re highlighting two North Carolina bloggers who have participated today. Both accounts offer specific insight into how the nation-wide battle against a woman’s right to choose is playing out in our state.

Lee Storrow writes:

As we celebrate the Roe v. Wade decision today, it’s important that we stay vigilant in protecting women’s right to make personal decisions about their reproductive health. The anti-choice movement will stop at nothing to make abortion legal in name only. These threats on women’s choices don’t just threaten their reproductive health, they threaten their ability to choose their own future, and exist as equal citizens in our state and country. It’s no mistake that many of the same organizations that oppose meaningful access to abortion also oppose the legal recognition of gay and lesbian couples or women’s success in the workforce. Granting these rights threatens the patriarchy, and “traditional” views about how men and women should exist in society. Let’s keep fighting to protect Roe, and ensure every person has the right to choose their own future.

See the rest of his post here.

Cynthia R. Greenlee-Donnell, a doctoral student in history at Duke University (and NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina Board Member), reminds us that North Carolina has a long history of being a progressive state when it comes to reproductive rights for women. As she puts it:

While we may think of North Carolina as a red state or sometimes swing-state purple, it was once unequivocally blue in the matter of abortion care. In 1978, after Congress passed the Hyde Amendment barring use of federal Medicaid monies for low-income women’s abortions, North Carolina created its own state abortion fund.

The idea: Poor women shouldn’t have to face a lifetime emotional and economic commitment to a child because they didn’t have the hundreds of dollars for an abortion. That fund served the state’s women well until the mid-1990s, when onerous new financial requirements made it nigh impossible for women on Medicaid, precisely those with the least resources, to access it. But the death knell for the fund didn’t come until after Republicans won a majority in both chambers of the statehouse in 2010, which amounted to one of those rare political storms of the century.

What a difference 40 years and a single midterm election can make. In one fell swoop, the bicameral Republican majority pushed through an abortion law change, which requires 24-hour waiting periods and mandatory biased counseling before a woman can freely exercise her choice to have an abortion. One element of that law — requiring women submit to an ultrasound, listen to a narration describing the image if she looks away, and be offered the chance to hear a fetal heartbeat — is under an injunction and in a judge’s hands.

Read Greenlee-Donnell’s complete blog post for The Institute for Southern Studies here.

What was the best posting you read today about Roe? Let us know in the comments section, or if you prefer, via facebook or twitter.

Erin Arizzi is a the Communications Intern at NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina. She is also a PhD student and teaching fellow in Communication Studies at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has a Masters Degree in Rhetoric from UNC-CH, and a BA in English from Villanova University in Pennsylvania. 

Happy Anniversary!

by Honora Gandhi

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision to make safe, legal abortion available to women in our country. In Roe v. Wade, it was determined that abortion qualified as a private matter between a woman and her physician.

Despite the fact that with every federal and legislative session, new bills to restrict abortion rights are introduced, the majority (63%) of Americans still hold that abortion is a basic human right. …Hallelujah for that small, consistent majority. Without it, we could be sent back to a time more horrifying than most of us can imagine.

There are a lot of people, many of whom with political power, who claim to want Roe v. Wade reversed. I have to believe none of them knows what that means. It wouldn’t save any babies. It would kill women.

NARAL published a study recently that showed Millennials (people born between 1980 and 2000) are largely unaware of Roe v. Wade, its subject matter or importance. Not knowing what the case was about is inexcusable – it’s a landmark in US history (seriously, get it together). But I can say that as a Millennial, none of us has a clue how horrific, frightening and gruesome things were before Roe v. Wade.

Before Roe, women dying from blood poisoning and other complications of illegal abortion was commonplace. There is a saying, ‘Nothing can stand between a woman and a wanted or unwanted pregnancy.’ If a woman wants to get pregnant, she will; if a woman wants to terminate her pregnancy, she will. If the latter means killing herself in the process, she still will. Estimates of how many women in the US died from illegal abortion before Roe v. Wade (1973) range from 5,000 to 10,000 per year. 70,000 to 100,000 women around the world still die annually from illegal abortion – mostly in countries with restrictive abortion laws. Why a significant portion of the US would like to become one of those countries is beyond me.

Decriminalizing abortion was one of the most significant steps we’ve ever taken toward lightening the consequences of socioeconomic disparity. Abortion has always been and will always be available to wealthy women. Before it was legal here, wealthy Americans had the option of traveling to England for it – which they did, in droves. So while poor women underwent “back alley abortions” and “kitchen abortions,” both of which tended to end in sepsis and death, wealthy women had safe access to a low-risk medical procedure. The same was true when abortion was only legal in some states – women who could afford to make the trip across state lines got care, while women who couldn’t were in trouble.

So, thanks again, Roe – our grip on your victory might be increasingly tenuous, but you paved the way for a world in which gender equality isn’t completely inconceivable; a world in which women can assert control over their own futures without risking their lives and health; a world in which access to basic healthcare extends (however inadequately) across economic lines. Four decades ago, history was made in our favor. Be proud, celebrate, and fight to uphold the 1973 ruling that shaped our lives for the better.