RALEIGH — More than a thousand abortion opponents gathered Saturday in downtown Raleigh for a day of events, including a Catholic Mass, a prayer breakfast, a rally and a march.
Faith Schofield, 36, and her sister, Joy Rimbert, 34, both of Southern Pines, were among the marchers bundled up in the 37-degree weather. The sisters have been attending anti-abortion events since their parents took them as children to the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.
Jan. 22 marks 41 years since the U.S. Supreme Court issued the Roe v. Wade decision granting women the right to privacy that protects abortions.
“I feel like it’s a visual testimony of what I believe,” Schofield said.
Her sister added: “I feel it’s important to come out – even when it’s uncomfortable, even when it’s cold – to show that it is more than just words.”
The women are active in a movement that, although it has been going on for four decades, is gaining some ground in North Carolina, which has become a battleground state on the issue.
Last year and in 2011, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed sweeping changes to the state’s abortion laws. Some of those laws were cited last week by abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America and its state counterpart, which gave North Carolina an “F” grade in its annual report detailing the status of women’s reproductive rights in the United States.
At the afternoon rally, N.C. Right to Life President Barbara Holt cited the recent legislative success: “Since we met last year, our legislature passed an omnibus pro-life bill that is just amazing in what it does.”
The 2013 law requires the state to develop new, potentially stricter regulations of abortion clinics, which opponents say would put some clinics out of business. It also denies insurance coverage for abortions for city and county employees or for those participating in the state health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act.
It also would prohibit abortion based on the sex of the fetus. It would allow some additional categories of medical personnel to refuse to participate in abortion procedures as a matter of conscience.
At the afternoon rally, House Speaker Pro Tem Paul “Skip” Stam, a Republican from Apex, urged the crowd to make sure their voices are heard as the state Department of Health and Human Services develops proposed regulations for the clinics.
Noting that abortion-rights advocates are already involved in the process, Stam said, “When the proposal comes out, we need you to let the department know that you want something stronger and better.”
Despite those legislative successes, abortion opponents suffered a judicial setback Friday. A federal judge in Greensboro struck down a provision of the 2011 state law that required doctors to show women ultrasound images and describe them in detail between four and 72 hours before performing abortions.
Civil rights advocates praised the ruling, since they claimed the law violated doctors’ right to free speech. Supporters decried the ruling, saying pregnant women should receive as much information as possible from their doctors. The law said women didn’t have to listen or watch.
The ultrasound provision of the law has never gone into effect, as the same federal judge temporarily blocked it the year it was enacted.
However, anti-abortion advocates have some hope that the ruling will be overturned. Holt told the crowd Saturday: “We believe this (law) will be upheld at the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals,” referring to the federal appeals court that would review the judge’s ruling.
“We’re disappointed with the decision,” Tillis said. “I could see the potential for the ruling going to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina on Wednesday will deliver a petition with more than 1,500 signatures urging the Department of Health and Human Services to make women’s health its first priority as it develops the abortion-clinic regulations.
“In 2013, extreme lawmakers railroaded through a series of new laws that are part of a nationwide, well-funded anti-woman agenda sweeping the nation,” Suzanne Buckley, executive director of the group, wrote in an email last week. “These laws are ill-conceived and out of touch with the majority of North Carolinians who believe lawmakers have no place in a woman’s personal, private reproductive decisions.”
Buckley said in the statement: “In 2014, NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina is as committed as ever to holding the opponents of a woman’s right to choose accountable, and working hard to elect lawmakers who share our pro-choice values and belief that every woman should have not just the right, but the opportunity to make whatever choice is right for her.”
Weigl: 919-829-4848; Twitter: @andreaweigl