How people in North Carolina have responded since the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was announced.
Written by Theodore A Williamson
Image Credit: Gemma Kennedy
I wrote this article just weeks before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) released its official decision on the landmark case of Roe v Wade. At this point we had gained insight into the decision SCOTUS was going to make as a result of a leak from Politico. This has since caused a global outcry from people with the ability to get pregnant about their rights for accessing reproductive health. I was in a typical Republican state, in a school whose student body is mostly proudly Christian, however, I found it much more difficult than I imagined to get people to share their opinions.
At UNCW there were daily protests on the pavements, defaced with chalk for both sides but not one student I asked would share their own opinion on a topic that has become one of the USA’s most fraught issues within politics. As someone who is not impacted by the decision SCOTUS has made, I can only voice my solidarity with those who are impacted and thank those few who bravely took the time to speak to me and allow me to tell their stories.
“Are you here of your own free will?”
This is the question that Dr Katie Peel, a professor of English at UNCW and a supporter of reproductive justice, asked every person assigned female at birth (AFAB) who came into the woman’s health centre where she volunteered.
In 2019 there were 143,004 pregnancies reported to the North Carolina Centre for Health Statistics. Of those pregnancies, around 16% were terminated by abortion and the majority of those who underwent the procedures were between 20-and 34 years old, according to North Carolina Health News.
For those who advocate for the right to safe access to abortion, the stakes have never been higher. In mere weeks the Supreme Court will decide whether the landmark case of Roe v Wade should be overturned. On the 2nd of May, a majority opinion was leaked from the Supreme Court, something so rare that court watchers cannot recall a time in recent history when this has happened. The opinion showed a 6/9 majority to overturn Roe v Wade in the upcoming case. “We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” Justice Alito writes in the document, leaked on Politico. It is labelled as the “Opinion of the Court.” “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.” Alito then states. The Supreme Court are, for now, it seems ready to change the precedent.
A law passed on the basis of privacy for people AFAB and their healthcare has been forced into the public sphere of discussion. The plaintiff alleged that Texas law was unconstitutionally vague and violated Roe’s constitutionally protected right to personal privacy. If it is overturned, there are already several states who have passed “trigger laws” that will automatically go into effect should this be the case. There are already 26 states who are likely or certain to ban abortion should the law be overturned according to the Guttmacher Institute. Texas passed the “Heartbeat Act” in 2021 that bans abortion as soon as a heartbeat is detected. The Texas legislature argues that this is to protect the unborn citizens' rights. There are other states like Connecticut that are trying to blunt the impact of the abortion ban. Democrat Gov. Ned Lamont intends to sign a bill which would allow a wider number of those in the medical field to perform certain types of abortions beyond doctors, include nurse-midwives, physician assistants and other medical professionals.
However, for those involved in the reproductive health field, there is much more to consider: “The harder it is to access abortion, the higher the risk we have, abortions will happen, right? Pregnant people will have abortions regardless of the law.” Discussed Dr Katie Peel from the English department of UNCW. “What will happen is there will be an increase in unsafe abortions. Difficulty in accessing reliable information as to how to manage one's reproductive health and that can put people in really, really precarious situation.” Continues Dr Katie Peel.
One thing is clear: the need to access abortion in North Carolina is evident given the number of people who accessed the service in 2019 but this right, the principle of equality for people assigned female at birth has been thrown into question. The people of Wilmington, in the state of North Carolina and across the United States are having their ability to choose a method of healthcare taken away or threatened to be taken away. In a system that has changed the discussion from what abortion means in terms of care for the patient into a conversation of politics, a bloody line entrenched in decades of party politics and religion, it doesn’t look like this is changing anytime soon. Notably North Carolina doesn’t have an official trigger law in place should the court change the precedent, however this does not guarantee anything.
Dr Julie Krueger a lecturer at the Gender Studies and Resource Centre at UNCW argues that the people who will be hardest hit by this legislative change are minorities, those who are unemployed, and those in unsafe relationships. For them unreliable access to safe abortions have financial consequences, unreliable access to abortion means potentially having to go through a pregnancy that they cannot afford. As of March 2022, the unemployment rate in Wilmington, North Carolina was 3.1% according to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, so roughly just over 3500 people were unemployed in Wilmington alone. Not all of them will require access to abortion or women’s health care but especially following the economic impact of Covid-19 it is known that the employment areas that were hardest hit by the pandemic were ‘low-skilled’ jobs that women tend to dominate in for a variety of reasons. Additionally, it is known that minority people are more likely to experience high discrepancies in healthcare treatment, Black people are three times more likely to die in childbirth than their White counterparts according to the CDC. “We know that 25% to 33% of women will have an abortion in their lifetime. And we know that around 75% of those accessing an abortion are poor or have annual incomes below the federal poverty level” states Dr Julie Krueger, “And we know that studies consistently show that between two thirds and three-fourths of all women accessing abortion claim they would have an illegal abortion if abortions were banned or criminalized.” Dr Krueger continues.
North Carolina strictly bans abortions after 20 weeks, the legislator arguing that it does not impede on Roe v Wade because it has gone past the post-viability benchmark that Roe established. Any abortion that takes place after this benchmark must be because it imposes a significant risk to the mother. Additionally, a resident of North Carolina cannot use Medicaid to cover the cost of an abortion public or private unless there is a health risk to the mother, or in the instance of rape or incest. In North Carolina, Medicaid covers 2.2 million people (approximately one-fifth of the state’s population), although only 1% of this figure are pregnant people in statistics given by the North Carolina Institute of Medicine. Behind every one of these 143,004 abortions that took place in 2019, there was a support network of doctors, nurses, and families that, although perhaps just a number to the members of congress who represent North Carolina have a voice and a story.
These barriers highlight the systematic inequalities that people face when trying to access abortion, not only in North Carolina, but the country more generally. In her work on gendered violence, Dr Krueger explains the clear link between restricting access to abortion as a form of AFAB healthcare and growing rates of poverty, food scarcity and domestic violence. "If more people are forced to complete unwanted pregnancies and they financially can’t afford it there is going to be a growing rate of food scarcity, people will be forced to stay in abusive relationships because of not only financial dependency but the trauma of having to give up a child if you aren’t able to take care of it. This in turn raises the number of children in a care system that is already on its knees” highlights Dr Krueger when discussing the societal impacts that abortion will have across North Carolina and nationwide. “What about traumatizing and retraumatizing survivors? What about people in abusive relationships? What about people in poverty? Right. What about people who don't want a child and the child who has to live with parents who don't want them?” Dr Krueger argues when discussing the aftermath of possible forced pregnancies.
At UNCW, if a student came to the Student Health Centre there is no immediate way to terminate a pregnancy through them, a student would have to be directed to Planned Parenthood, although in line with North Carolina state laws on abortion a person AFAB must have seen a physician and then wait 72 hours before being allowed to obtain an abortion. In information given by Dr Vanstory through a colleague at the Student Health Centre. Planned Parenthood in Wilmington doesn’t offer abortions due to several reasons and restrictions imposed on them by the legislator. One of the main ones is the lack of state funding, organizations that provide abortions are not eligible for any level of state funding. Instead, people requiring access to this treatment must travel to Fayetteville, the closest centre to Wilmington. This can present a host of problems for people seeking an abortion, including financial, travel or childcare constraints. In a college town like Wilmington, many are going to be financially dependent on their parents or state funding, they will work part-time jobs and would greatly struggle to independently travel almost two hours away if they needed this care. Therefore, they are more likely to have to give up their privacy and independence in making this choice as they have to involve other parties. This can turn a question of the individual right of choice into a debate on life and viability, which many in the reproductive justice field argue is a subjective term.
Although Roe v Wade was passed in 1973, abortion has been a staple of healthcare throughout human history. The author, activist and researcher Heather Ault has exhibited “4000 Years For Choice” in 2014 at the University of Michigan showing how abortion has been a way to maintain safe healthcare and save lives. It was an accepted part of many cultures, and it was only until the Catholic church opposed abortion in the second half of the 19th century that there was a shift to politics and religious views vetoing that of people AFAB making this autonomous decision. “It's important to recognize that abortion was not limited by law or even opposed by the church until the 19th century. Dr Krueger highlights “Prior to the 19th century. Abortion was relatively a common occurrence through different mechanical devices and powders and pills. Again, this wasn't opposed by the church, and was not limited by law. So, Roe v Wade was actually a return to that state where there weren't these restrictions imposed. It wasn't as if Roe v Wade was an anomaly that was a total 180 from previous perspectives on abortion or on health care rights.” Dr Krueger says continuing to establish the point that abortion is not a new medical invention.
For both parties involved in this debate, change is the keyword, how will they achieve it? Understanding why access to this level of healthcare is essential has been clarified. The dynamic is the main thing that has changed; from one of healthcare of an individual and individual decisions into one discussed by elected officials who for the majority have not needed to access AFAB care.
April 7th, 2022, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson was confirmed to the United States Supreme Court, the biggest shakeup since the Republicans claimed a 6/3 majority. She is the first African American woman appointed to the courts 233-year history. Arguably, Justice Jackson is also the most qualified judge ever appointed to the court in terms of service and experience compared to her colleagues. She has served as a Supreme Court clerk, a Public Defender, a District Judge, and a Court of Appeals Judge. However, she will not get to cast her vote on the potential overturn of Roe v Wade; it will be up to the current nine justices. This is because her predecessor Judge Stephen Bryer will continue to serve until the end of the court’s current session; meaning he will cast his vote on Roe v Wade and not Jackson. Six of the current nine justices are men, six are republican and seven of whom are white. Arguably not representative of the ever-diversifying population of the United States. Even more so when one considers that 59% of Americans support abortion and believe that it should be legal in most if not all cases according to research done by the Pew Research Centre.
In North Carolina, the two Republican white male senators Thom Tills and Richard Burr voted against the nomination of Justice Jackson. Jackson argues that Roe v Wade is a precedent that should be upheld. Those involved in the reproductive justice movement don’t feel represented in Wilmington and North Carolina and stressed the need to vote: “This is a question of abortion, legality, but also, you know, the Medicaid issue, what are they doing for fair housing? What are they doing for, you know, for jobs and getting us out of poverty wages? What are they doing to raise? Minimum wage” Dr Katie Peel stated when talking about how she felt about North Carolina’s current representation in the Senate and when dealing with abortion. “You know, all of these things that affect these intersectional issues of gender and race and class and sexual orientation, all of those big identity factors. It's not just about abortion. It's about all of these other things that those particular senators don't do well on supporting either.” Dr Katie Peel concluded, voicing her urgent message to the people of Wilmington and North Carolina to vote for their own representation.
For many people involved in advocating for reproductive justice, they often feel like they are trying to make people understand who don’t want to listen or understand the ramifications of what is going to happen if this fundamental right is removed. When Dr Peel was volunteering at Planned Parenthood, the one thing that she was surprised at was the range of people AFAB who came into the clinic for care. It wasn’t just students or those the media can often vilify but those with stable incomes and families too. “There are plenty of people out there who have committed their lives to ensuring that, you know, your options in a safe and inclusive and accepting environment, that you were informed of your options, and then you get to decide what's best for your life.” Dr Krueger stated when speaking about what she wanted the people to know if they were scared to reach out for help.
So, as the day of judgement comes ever closer with the Supreme Court ending its term in mere weeks the line drawn between privacy, choice, religion, healthcare, and politics has grown deeper. Fracturing and scarring communities around this country to a possible point of no return. Nine Justices hold the blade in one of the most polarizing times in recent political history. Although Justices can and do change their minds when formulating majority opinions. With 6/9 judges never having to personally deal with the consequences of this option and siding with a draft majority to overturn, are they choosing along party lines or on their own free will?
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Dr J Krueger – Department of Gender Studies and Resource Centre firstname.lastname@example.org Dr Vanstory Student Health Centre UNCW email@example.com Dr Katie Peel – Department of English firstname.lastname@example.org References
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