Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed that laws that place substantial but medically unnecessary obstacles in the way of a woman seeking an abortion are unconstitutional. In its ruling striking down politically motivated abortion restrictions in Texas, the court made clear that abortion is a constitutional right in reality, not just in theory. Every woman must be able to access that right to abortion without having to navigate a series of unnecessary and often insurmountable barriers.
The N.C. General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory should take note.
While the court’s ruling is a tremendous victory for abortion access, the reality is that women in North Carolina have suffered an ongoing assault on their ability to access abortion. In 2011, the legislature passed a law requiring doctors to read a nonmedical, politician-devised script to women seeking abortions that attempted to shame and discourage them from accessing abortion.
Worse, the state required that doctors not only perform a mandatory ultrasound, but also display the ultrasound and describe the image in detail to the woman seeking the abortion, no matter the patient’s circumstances. The only concession the law made to a woman who did not wish to see the image or hear the description? It allowed her to avert her eyes and “not listen.”
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Thankfully, because of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights, this law was struck down and never went into effect.
But the onslaught did not stop there. Abortion has been targeted in every legislative session since the current leadership took over in Raleigh. The current majority at the legislature has denied women the ability to access health insurance that covers abortion through the Affordable Care Act exchange, attempted to corrupt the doctor/patient relationship through a ban on “sex selective” abortions, instituted a three-day waiting period for women seeking an abortion (the longest in the country), directed the Department of Health and Human Services to review and implement new laws regulating abortion clinics in the hopes of shutting them down and required doctors performing abortions after 16 weeks to submit women’s ultrasounds to DHHS for review.
Anti-abortion lawmakers say that such restrictions and obstacles are designed to protect women’s health. Medical experts and the law disagree. Leading medical groups like the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists oppose these laws because they jeopardize women’s health by diminishing access to abortion, a medically safe procedure.
In Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the court struck down two parts of a restrictive Texas abortion law that required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic and required abortion clinics to meet the standards for an ambulatory surgical center.
“It is beyond rational belief,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in a concurring opinion, that those restrictions “would genuinely protect the health of women.”
The Supreme Court made clear that McCrory, the General Assembly and other anti-abortion lawmakers can no longer hide behind sham rationales to enact medically needless barriers to abortion access.
Whether she is a woman of color; a lesbian, bi or trans woman; an immigrant woman; a woman with a disability; or a woman of a lower economic status – all women in North Carolina have a right to access abortion, control their own bodily autonomy and determine their own reproductive destiny.
We know that there are politicians around the country and in North Carolina who won’t stop trying to impose unnecessary obstacles to prevent a woman who has decided to have an abortion from actually getting one.
We are putting these politicians on notice that their obstructions will not stand. We are working together with supporters of abortion rights to lift these sham restrictions and tell politicians we will not rest until every woman who has decided to have an abortion can have one, free from obstructions, shame and political agendas.
Sarah Preston is policy director and acting executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina.