Today is the 48th anniversary of the U.S Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, a decision affirming that everyone in this country has the right to make the personal decision to access abortion free from government interference. People had been accessing abortion well before this 1973 court decision, but we’ve had 48 years of it being legal to do so. We’ve also had 48 years (and more) of false narratives, stigma, and harassment from elected officials and others opposed to this basic right.
For a large segment of the American population, there has never been a time when one could not legally access abortion. But with a vocal and ruthless anti-abortion minority – and to be clear opposition to legal abortion is a minority opinion – devoting the last 48 years to undermining this legal access, abortion in many places, including the South and Midwest, is virtually unobtainable for too many people.
The last four years in particular have moved us backwards. The extreme hostility of the Trump-Pence administration to bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom brought us constant attacks via administrative law and Executive Orders, an escalation in anti-abortion rhetoric, harassment, violence, and intimidation at abortion clinics, and an increasing diversion of healthcare tax dollars to anti-abortion fake clinics. While much of this damage to reproductive healthcare access can be undone going forward by the new Biden-Harris administration (something that will bring much needed relief for those who provide and access this care) it was the Trump administration’s appointment of three anti-abortion Supreme Court justices and more than 200 conservative federal judges that will be the previous administration’s lasting anti-choice legacy.
The Supreme Court’s recent decision in FDA v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists was a 6-3 ruling demonstrating the anti-abortion justices’ willingness to continue singling out abortion care for restrictions that would never be placed on other healthcare procedures. The justices ruled that medication abortion can be restricted from telemedicine even when telemedicine options are being pushed for every other possible procedure due to a global pandemic that requires people to isolate.
While this case may seem minor in impact in places like North Carolina, where telemedicine has been unnecessarily banned for abortion since 2013, it is likely a precursor to more impactful cases to come.There are more than a dozen direct challenges to Roe in the federal courts pipeline, and at least one case out of Mississippi banning abortion at 15 weeks that the Supreme Court could hear this session. Any of those challenges could result in a direct overturn of Roe, taking away the most basic affirmation of the right to abortion access, or continue to severely curtail that access until it is meaningless in all but the most progressive states.
An immense challenge these past 48 years has been ensuring equitable access to abortion no matter one’s zip code. The patchwork of state restrictions, all allowed under the Roe decision, means people’s access to care is dependent on their location. North Carolina, despite legalizing some abortion prior to Roe, has numerous unnecessary restrictions – many put in place since 2011 when an anti-abortion legislative majority took control of the General Assembly.
And with that anti-abortion legislative majority still in place, we can expect to see more inflammatory and unnecessary bills introduced in the 2021 session to restrict abortion access, including bills that will have little basis in medical science, use language to deliberately deceive and mislead people about everything having to do with abortion and reproductive health care, and will be unnecessary to the provision of quality reproductive healthcare. These bills will have nothing to do with supporting pregnant people and families, and will be introduced, debated, and pushed forward solely to shame, intimidate, and stigmatize patients and providers, with the goal of re-criminalizing all abortion. For many lawmakers, these bills are put forward to score easy political points, as well as serve as a distraction from the failings of many in the General Assembly to meet this moment we are in.
This anniversary of Roe v. Wade comes almost a year into a global pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis, which legislative leaders have done little to address. Instead of pushing unnecessary and inflammatory anti-abortion bills – in a state where the majority of people support legal abortion – our lawmakers must meet these multiple crises head on. The people of North Carolina need COVID-19 relief, including a commitment to helping people secure stable housing; access to comprehensive and affordable healthcare; and access to paid sick days, a living wage, and worker protections for those on the front lines.
These are the types of polices that support North Carolina families and protect vulnerable populations, and we expect our leaders in the General Assembly to rise to the challenge of now, not grandstand for slogans to use in the next election. Forth-eight years of these kinds of disingenuous attacks on reproductive freedom has done nothing to support families, and everything to harm pregnant people no matter what reproductive healthcare decisions they make. We urge lawmakers to finally stop playing politics with people’s lives.
Tara Romano is the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina.