BY MARY KOENIG AND NICOLE WELSH
On Tuesday night, the North Carolina Senate added a package of stringent women’s healthcare restrictions to a seemingly unrelated bill – HB695 – which aimed to prohibit the recognition of Sharia law in family courts. If this news took you by surprise, you’re not the only one: women’s health and progressive advocates, organizing groups like the NAACP, and the majority of citizens across the state were completely unaware of the added measures until late last night. Although no women’s health advocacy groups were notified that women’s health would be on the table, conservative groups like NC Right to Life and NC Values Coalition were notified and invited to the “open floor voting” session on whether to add the restrictions to the bill.
Despite the short notice, hundreds of women showed up at the NC General Assembly this morning to protest the various restrictive measures and await the Senate’s decision. Sen. Kinnaird and others thanked the protesters for their solidarity, but Lt. Governor Dan Forest rebuked them, threatening to close the doors to the gallery and turn the “debate” into a private session, much like the one held the previous night to add “women’s health and safety” to the bill. On Wednesday morning, like on Tuesday night, the voices of North Carolina’s women and health advocates were ignored while the conservative-dominated Senate discussed their health and safety and decided on their fate. The bill passed through the Senate, 29-12, despite arguments from some senators and protests from the crowd, a mere 18 hours after the first information on the new restrictions was publicly available.
Closing remarks by Republican president pro tem Phil Berger included the assertion that “North Carolina women have nothing to fear from this bill.” In fact, North Carolina’s women – and many others – have a lot to fear from this bill if it continues to pass through the House.
If HB695 passes, the only center that could remain open in the entire state is located in Asheville, NC. That means if you live in Raleigh, you would need (at least) 6 free hours, a car, (at least) $60 for gas, the ability to leave home and/or get off work, on top of the money to pay for procedures (as funding and subsidizing sources continue to decrease). And that’s the estimate according to the Legislative Assistant. According to a representative for Planned Parenthood, she didn’t believe that any of the clinics currently operating in the state will meet the new requirements. In which case, if you can’t afford the hospital, you’re out of luck.
The “Family, Faith, and Freedom Protection Act” outlines new requirements that women’s health clinics must meet. These new regulations are not only complicated, but many of them unnecessary (for example, attacking sex-selected abortion in a state that – according to all available evidence – no longer practices sex-selected abortions). As well as preventing state healthcare plans from covering abortions and requiring doctors to be present at all times during medical abortions, the bill implements strict qualifications that clinics must meet. As a result of these requirements, women’s health clinics will be subject to higher regulation than those performing colonoscopies or oral surgery, which are higher risk procedures. These requirements are complicated, open to interpretation, and harm the women they are supposed to be “protecting”. The end result is the closing of 34 health clinics.
The restrictions appear to serve no other purpose than to close down clinics that offer services above and beyond abortion. Under the guise of protecting women’s health by demanding higher quality clinics, without providing funding, the reality is that women’s options are curtailed and, as a result, their health actually put into greater jeopardy.
No matter what your stance on abortion, this bill will affect women and others across the state. This bill would not only essentially end access to abortion care in the state of North Carolina, but also to the myriad of other services that providers such as Planned Parenthood offer – mammograms, Pap tests, HIV and other STD testing, educational programs, pregnancy tests, adoption referrals, prenatal services, and vaccinations. In fact, only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services are abortion-related. The clinic’s main focus is on prevention – 71% of clients receive services to prevent unintended pregnancy. For many, these clinics are the only truly accessible way to maintain reproductive health, as well as prevent unplanned pregnancies.
For college students like us, who are often unable to leave campus, or – after tuition – unable to shell out the extra cash to go to more expensive providers, clinics like Planned Parenthood are the sole method of accessible healthcare, birth control, and/or testing services. Women’s health clinics offer crucial services to women who cannot afford to take the time off of work, cannot leave home for long periods of time, or cannot spend the money to go to another provider; adolescents looking for accurate and judgment-free education on how to prevent unwanted pregnancy; LGBT citizens for whom the clinic is a safer space for testing or care; or those who cannot or prefer not to approach their general practitioner about HIV or STI testing. Having a trusted relationship with a doctor is crucial for accessing information, sharing health history, and making decisions necessary to maintaining good health.
While discussing the bill, Sen. Warren Daniel stated that “We’re not here today taking away the rights of women.” The realities of the bill, however, suggest otherwise. Women do “deserve the right to walk into a clinic that’s clean and safe” – we can all agree on that much. But this bill would create a North Carolina in which many women will have no clinic to walk into at all.
>>Mary is a rising senior at UNC Chapel Hill majoring in psychology with a double minor in sexuality studies and social & economic justice. She chose to participate in the Moxie project because of her interest in learning about and participating in progressive social movements, particularly women’s activism.