With reports that new abortion restrictions in other states are putting women’s health in danger, Attorney General Josh Stein called on North Carolina voters to elect legislators who will support reproductive rights.
“Politicians are playing with women’s lives,” Stein said at a news conference Wednesday. “Decisions about reproductive care are deeply personal. They should be made by a woman in consultation with her loved ones and her doctor. They should not be made by politicians.”
Stein spoke alongside other supporters of reproductive rights as North Carolina faces the possibility of more abortion restrictions.
Federal Judge William Osteen in 2019 blocked enforcement of a decades-old state law that banned abortion after 20 weeks. He is reconsidering now that the U.S. Supreme Court has removed the constitutional protection to the right to abortion.
Stein declined last month to ask Osteen to lift the injunction. North Carolina’s Republican legislative leaders have hired their own lawyers as they support lifting the injunction against the 20-week ban.
Stein’s office defended the statute when the lawsuit was filed. When the federal court ruled the law could not be enforced, his office appealed. Stein recused himself from the case.
Stein said lawyers with his office will file comments with the court on Monday after consulting with the district attorneys and state agencies who are defendants in the lawsuit.
Though abortion laws in North Carolina in have not changed in the weeks since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the decision has made patients afraid to be forthcoming with their doctors, said Dr. Erica Pettigrew.
Pettigrew, a family practice physician, said she saw a patient last week who had an appointment to confirm her pregnancy. The patient told Pettigrew she wasn’t sure how she felt about being pregnant. “It was clear she didn’t know if she would get in trouble if she disclosed her desire for an abortion,” Pettigrew said.
“Unfortunately, many patients are now scared, not only to talk about their current needs, but we’re also seeing patients who are reluctant to tell us about their pregnancy histories,” she said. “Now, I’m seeing patients in my practice who are scared to disclose.”
The Republican-led legislature did not debate any new abortion restrictions this year following the Supreme Court decision, but House Speaker Tim Moore said in a statement they would be a top priority when the legislature returns to fulltime work in January.
Republicans do not have veto-proof majorities in the House or Senate. Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has vetoed bill restricting abortions that Republicans could not override.
Republicans are working to gain enough seats in November so they can override Cooper’s vetoes without the need to woo Democratic legislators to their side.
On Tuesday, voters in the Republican state of Kansas voted overwhelmingly to keep abortion rights protections in their state constitution.
U.S. Rep. Deborah Ross, a Raleigh Democrat, said she was thrilled with the Kansas result.
“I think what it shows is public sentiment,” she said. “The fact that Kansas was the canary in the coal mine for this and got that kind of result I think sends a very, very strong message to the rest of the country.”
Stein said abortion rights are on the ballot in North Carolina in November in the form of legislative races.
“We know that the right to abortion care in North Carolina is on the ballot this November and every election to come thereafter,” he said. “As Attorney General, I will do everything in my power to protect women’s right to reproductive care.”