The second week of July will go down in history as the week that brought the world the Twitter hashtag: #MotorcycleVagina. Coined in response to a single North Carolina bill, SB 353, that combined motorcycle safety with new abortion regulations, this hashtag has captured the imaginations of activists and media moguls alike.
This new measure, passed on Thursday by the House, is separate from an another abortion-restricting bill passed last week by the state Senate limiting Sharia Law. Last week’s bill included many of the same restrictions as the new bill—limiting insurance coverage for abortion, expanding the conscience clause—without the strict language requiring all abortion providers to meet the same regulations faced by ambulatory care centers. The new bill gives the state broad regulatory powers to impose new, as-yet-undefined, restrictions on abortion clinics.
Senate Bill 353 started its life as a motorcycle safety law, and it was only during a committee meeting last Wednesday that it was amended to include the abortion restrictions. As word spread about the change, Facebook feeds and Twitter streams filled with humorous explanations about the relationship between women’s health and vehicular safety. Protestors wearing bright pink and purple shirts and motorcycle helmets filled the gallery of the General Assembly, catching the attention of television talk show host Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, who titled her segment on the North Carolina Bill, “Zen and the Art of Menstrual Cycle Maintenance.”
The bill will now return to the Senate for approval, and then be sent to Governor McCrory, who has pledged to sign it into law. Although he promised not to enact any new restrictions on abortion during his gubernatorial campaign, McCrory says this new bill does not restrict abortion access. The previous abortion-related bill, HB 695, was called too restrictive by McCrory, and he said he wouldn’t sign it. House lawmakers say they listened to McCrory’s feedback on the previous bill when crafting the new version that spawned the #MotorcycleVagina hashtag.
Although many news outlets have used #MotorcycleVagina to have a good laugh at the absurdity of the bill amendment, mixed in with the coverage has been analysis of the state’s new conservative direction. The New York Times wrote about “The Decline of North Carolina,” spurring McCrory to defend his leadership in a Letter to the Editor.
But North Carolina isn’t the only place facing threats to women’s health– a fact noted by Businessweek reporter Julie Davis, who described a united campaign against women’s health all over the country, with places like North Dakota, North Carolina, and Texas serving as test cases to fuel future restrictions.
In Texas, after reconvening a special session of the state’s Senate, lawmakers passed a bill that bans abortions past 20 weeks and places restrictions on clinics and coverage. Governor Rick Perry has said he will sign the bill, claiming it protects the health of women. Further north, abortion restrictions were also weighed in Wisconsin this week, where a judge issued a temporary injunction stalling a law that is expected to close more than half of the state’s abortion clinics.
In the past, North Carolina’s abortion providers have filed lawsuits opposing restrictive abortion laws. Although no action has been taken yet, spokespeople in Texas and North Carolina have indicated they will fight the new laws in court.