Commentary

Pro-choice supporters energized despite divided court on abortion case

On the blistery cold morning of March 2, hundreds gathered at the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court in advance of oral arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the most significant reproductive rights case in recent history. The crowd sprawled out across the sidewalk and into the street. A man held a baby in one arm and a “Protect Abortion Access” sign in the other. Others held homemade signs, which read “Not Going Back.” An anti-choice crowd had also gathered, all clad in blue, but their presence was drowned out by the sea of purple pro-choice supporters.

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Inside the building, the walls vibrated with the sound of the crowd outside chanting “Stop the Sham!” The mood inside the courtroom was more somber as attendees contemplated the gravity of what was at stake in this case. The Justices would not only be determining the constitutionality of HB2, a law passed in Texas that requires clinics to convert into ambulatory care centers, and requires doctors who provide abortion care to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, but also whether states can continue to put barriers in place to prevent women from exercising their constitutional right to an abortion. As U.S. Solicitor General Verilli stated at the end of his oral arguments, if the court finds that HB2 should be upheld, what they will really be saying is “that this right exists only in theory and not in fact, going forward.”

At exactly 10am, the Justices entered the courtroom armed with questions for both sides. The seat formerly occupied by Justice Scalia sat noticeably empty and covered in black cloth. Within minutes, it was clear that this was going to be a battle for Justice Kennedy’s vote. Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayer and Kagan pulled no punches in calling out the unfairness in applying certain rules to abortions that aren’t applied to more dangerous procedures like liposuctions and colonoscopies. Justice Breyer further pointed out the hypocrisy in the State’s argument by asking if the State was truly passing these abortion restrictions for health reasons, weren’t they worried that the result of the restrictions was to shut down clinics and cause later-term and more self-induced abortions? Breyer continued, “[s]o if the concern is this tiny risk of dying through complication in a clinic, is this a remedy that will in fact achieve the legislature’s health-saving purpose?”

The arguments in favor of Whole Woman’s Health seemed persuasive at the time but it will be a few months before the Justices release their decision. Walking back down the steps of the Supreme Court and seeing the even larger and more energized crowd of supporters rallying in the cold weather, one thing was clear — no matter what the Justices decide, the right to abortion will not be allowed to be easily taken away.

Chavi Koneru is Policy Analyst for NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina

Commentary

Governor McCrory breaks his campaign promise…again (video)

Pat McCrory 4On Wednesday evening, Governor McCrory stated that he is planning on signing the controversial House Bill 465 when it reaches his desk. The Governor’s statement came hours after the House voted 71 to 43 to make the bill, which includes a 72-hour abortion waiting period, law in North Carolina.

The Governor’s decision came as a shock to those who had trusted him to stay true to his word. During his 2012 campaign, McCrory promised he would not sign any additional restrictions on abortions into law. However in 2013, he signed a bill creating unnecessary regulations for abortion clinics and further restricting insurance coverage of abortions. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, it was expected that when faced with a blatant abortion restriction, the Governor would veto the bill. It is clear now that McCrory has no intention of keeping his campaign promise. He is happy with the revised version of the bill; he has declared that it will positively protect women’s health. (Scroll down to see the video of the Governor’s now blatantly broken 2012 pledge and his explanation of the first time he went back on it).

The HB 465 that the Governor plans to sign looks nothing like the bill that was first introduced in April, with one exception: the mandated 72-hour waiting period.

The initial version of the bill included strong restrictions on the ability of doctors and UNC system hospitals to perform safe abortions. The final version leaves out the restrictions on UNC but adds in tougher laws against statutory rape and sex offenses. It also adds protections for victims of domestic violence. With the second edition of the bill, it appeared that the Legislature had realized the error of their ways and the absurdity of preventing one of the best ob-gyn programs in the country from teaching this family planning skill. Unfortunately, that clarity did not last long. Within weeks, without providing a reason, the Republican-controlled Senate decided to dump unrelated criminal justice provisions into the bill.

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Commentary

New bill would prohibit teaching about emergency contraception

sexeducationIn the barrage of bad bills introduced at the legislature in recent days, there is one that would result in great harm to sexual health education but that has thus far drawn little attention. House Bill 596 would rewrite the current requirements for sex education in schools, making an already flawed law even worse. The current law requires students to be taught mostly about abstinence but at least includes some discussion of contraception methods and safe sex practices. However, the new law, if passed, would forbid schools from teaching students about emergency contraceptive measures like Plan B, commonly known as the morning-after-pill.

Plan B and other methods of emergency contraception allow women to take a pill within five days of unprotected sex in order to prevent pregnancy. Based on approval by the FDA, these pills are currently available at pharmacies over-the-counter. Easier access to the pill has resulted in a lower rate of teenage pregnancy in the state (not to mention, been vital in cases of rape). Currently, all FDA-approved contraceptive methods in preventing pregnancy can be taught in the classroom.

Representative Chris Whitmire, sponsor of HB 596, however, believes that the schools should not be teaching students about such products, even if they are FDA-approved. According to Whitmire’s logic, which doesn’t appear to be based on medical training of any kind, Plan B can cause spontaneous abortions and, therefore, schools should not teach students about it. However, according to doctors with actual medical training, Plan B “works like other birth control pills to prevent pregnancy. The drug acts primarily by stopping the release of an egg from the ovary.” In fact, Plan B does not even have the ability to cause an abortion. In cases where the fertilized egg has been implanted, the drug is ineffective and the pregnancy proceeds as normal.

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Commentary

New legislation would all but end access to safe, legal abortions in North Carolina

Abortion protestWomen’s rights to make decisions about their own bodies took another blow yesterday and this time the strike was aimed at doctors too.

While proponents of women’s rights were still reeling from the anti-abortion Senate bill filed last week, HB 465 was introduced, yesterday, containing the most restrictive proposed abortion restrictions North Carolina has seen in a long time.

As is typical with anti-abortion bills, the new laws would make it harder for women, who have made a choice about their own body, by making them wait 72 hours, instead of the current 24 hour period, between asking for an abortion and being legally permitted to get one.

According to NARAL Pro-Choice NC:

[M]andatory delay laws such as these would endanger women’s health and “create additional burdens for North Carolina women, especially women in rural areas who often have to travel for many hours to reach a health-care provider, and for women who do not have the resources to take extra time off work or to pay for child-care.”

The real dagger in the bill, however, is how it would dictate doctor’s rights to make decisions based on his or her own ethics and education. Almost every provision of the bill would narrow the pool of doctors available to perform abortions, until North Carolina is left with zero doctors able to perform safe abortions—which is obviously the intent of the bill’s sponsors.

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Commentary

Supreme Court rules GPS tracking of sex offenders may be unconstitutional

Supreme courtOn Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that North Carolina’s highest court must re-examine a sex offender’s case to determine whether a law requiring him to wear a GPS tracking bracelet for life is constitutional.

Torrey Dale Grady was convicted of a second-degree sex offense in 1997 and then of taking indecent liberties with a child in 2006. As a repeat offender, Grady was sentenced to three years in jail. Upon his release in 2013, he was ordered to permanently wear a GPS tracker. The monitoring device allows state officials to receive information about all of Grady’s movements. In order to maintain the tracking device, state officials are permitted to enter Grady’s home unannounced. According to Grady, he must also be plugged into a wall outlet for four to six hours daily in order to keep the bracelet charged.

Grady is one of 600 sex offenders in North Carolina that currently wears such a monitoring device.

Grady immediately appealed the order requiring him to permanently wear the GPS device claiming that it violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Grady’s claims were rejected by North Carolina courts but the Supreme Court found that this tracking could be unconstitutional.

In its opinion, the Court cited its recent decision in United States v. Jones which held that:

“the Government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a ‘search.’

In light of [this] decision[], it follows that a State also conducts a search when it attaches a device to a person’s body, without consent, for the purpose of tracking that individual’s movements.”

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