Last fall, I had the opportunity to help facilitate a gathering on reducing the stigma surrounding abortion. Workers from several countries across the world converged in Peru to share findings and troubleshoot challenges in their work.
They were medical providers, researchers, popular educators, and community organizers, and they united through Inroads, an international network for the reduction of abortion discrimination and stigma. Through their stories, I learned about repressive conditions in homes, schools, hospitals, villages, cities and disaster zones.
As participants reported on projects in Central and South America, Africa and Asia, from many different faith and cultural traditions, I found myself reckoning with painful similarities with my community’s experience trying to access safe, legal, and affordable abortion care in North Carolina.
Here, too, we are constantly defending our right to make decisions about whether to carry a pregnancy to term, and fighting to protect our access to the reproductive health care we need without shame.
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I have accompanied a younger friend to access an abortion after she was raped. I have woken up early to help form a human passageway to protect patients from harassment as they entered a clinic. I have made my own decision to have an abortion.
In each of these charged moments I felt appalled by the ways our society made a private medical decision into something more challenging.
We get shamed at every stage of our sexual and reproductive lives, and the common experience of abortion is only the most stigmatized point on the spectrum of our nonconsent. Until powerholders stop contesting full reproductive choice and safety, we cannot claim to live in a free society. I will not rest until my daughter gets to grow up in a world where she defines her own intimate relationships and whether and when she wants to have children.
Since the 2010 elections, politicians across the country have quietly passed more than 300 abortion restrictions, including the law that Gov. McCrory signed last year to make medical providers send ultrasound pictures to the state and force patients to wait an additional 72 hours to access an abortion, the longest waiting period in the country. Legislative attempts to undo abortion access by manufacturing new restrictions always hurt low-income women living in rural areas the hardest.
In June of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Texas law that placed medically unnecessary regulations on doctors and facilities that provide abortions (for example, requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, and requiring clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers).
Before the law, facts showed that abortion was an extremely safe procedure with very low rates of complications. The Texas law caused the closures of over half of the existing clinics, leaving clinics only in metropolitan areas. This created much longer distances for patients to travel, significantly increased the client load for the remaining medical providers, and dramatically escalated costs for clinics. Fortunately, federal law already guarantees that abortion regulations create circumstances that ensure safety for the patient without placing obstacles in the path of the patient’s health care, so the Texas law was ruled unconstitutional.
I’m hoping that our own North Carolina elected officials get the message: please stop trying to make laws that pretend to protect us when they actually endanger our health and safety. Stop pulling stunts that cost us vast amounts of public funds when the state inevitably gets wrung out in court like a mop.
Restrictions that infringe on safe abortion access aren’t just unethical and unpopular; they are unconstitutional. Every person in North Carolina – regardless of where they live or their economic status – has the right to make decisions about whether and when to parent, and to access abortion with compassion and dignity.
Manju Rajendran is a board member of the North Carolina ACLU. You can reach her in c/o The Chapel Hill/ Durham News at firstname.lastname@example.org.