The number of abortions performed in North Carolina is dropping – fast. In fact, the number of abortions performed in our state has dropped 26 percent over the last five years, according to a new survey by the Associated Press. Only Hawaii had a larger percentage decline.
That is in line with a national trend of decreasing abortion rates. Data from the Guttmacher Institute shows that, in general, national abortion rates have been declining since 1991. The Associated Press survey found that the annual number of abortions has fallen significantly in most states, both red and blue, since 2010.
That’s good news. It is good news for women and babies and families. It is good news for North Carolina.
It is good news, unless there are women that can’t access the care they need. Unless there are doctors who are too afraid to perform abortions. Unless there are clinics that have been shuttered by red tape.
Because at the same time the number of abortions has been declining, the North Carolina General Assembly has passed additional regulations and restrictions on women’s health. Just a few weeks ago, Governor McCrory signed a bill requiring women to talk to a doctor or other qualified professional 72 hours before having an abortion, unless there’s a medical emergency. The new law extends the waiting period before getting an abortion from the current 24 hours.
The legislation also requires doctors to provide more data to state regulators about certain second-trimester abortions and ensures that clinics performing abortions are inspected annually.
So, what is this all about? Is there a great need for additional restrictions on women’s health? Is there a great clamoring among North Carolina citizens for these new laws?
For years, national polls have shown that Americans are pretty evenly divided on the issue of abortion. Polling by the Pew Research Center shows that 51 percent of U.S. adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared with 43 percent who say it should be illegal all or most of the time.
But some recent polls have shown that the issue is more complicated – and that there is actually more common ground among Americans on this issue than previously thought.
A recent Vox poll found that nearly 40 percent of Americans do not identify themselves as pro-life or pro-choice, refusing the polarizing labels we normally see. More than two-thirds said that Roe vs. Wade should not be overturned, and 62 percent said this statement came closest to their beliefs: “The law says a woman has a right to an abortion. As long as this is the law, women should have access to safe and affordable abortion care.”
There was strong agreement over the way a woman getting an abortion should be treated, showing compassion I know Americans to have but that is frequently missing from the abortion debate. More than 70 percent wanted the experience to be comfortable and nonjudgmental. Most think women shouldn’t have to travel more than 60 miles to get an abortion.
Not surprisingly to anyone who has listened to the abortion debate for more than 5 minutes, it is not about policy, or women’s health or even the sanctity of life. Although all those things are impacted by both the debate and policy changes, the issue has become litmus test with those on the far right and the far left wearing their entrenched positions like a badge of honor. The rest of us in the middle are stuck carefully tiptoeing around so as not to offend our friends or colleagues, or, in the case of legislators, the voters.
Women’s health deserves better than that, and we ought to be emphasizing what we have in common rather than pushing people apart. Let’s change the debate and, frankly, encourage our legislators to focus on issues that will make a real difference in our state.
There’s a lesson in there for all of politics.