The recent demise of national abortion rights based on the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade has created a good deal of anger, uncertainty, and anxiety throughout the country. North Carolina is no exception.
Amid this chaos, it is still possible and legal to terminate a pregnancy in North Carolina. However, North Carolina is considered a hostile state toward reproductive rights. Since 2011, the NC General Assembly has established restrictions, requirements, and limitations to this right. Most recently, a federal judge ruled that a 20 week ban on abortions in North Carolina could be reinstated. Few women seek an abortion after 20 weeks, and those who do are facing a medical crisis. This change demonstrates the NC legislature’s absence of sympathy for the life of the pregnant person.
Although abortion is still legal in North Carolina, someone seeking one should be prepared to conform to the rules and restrictions that apply:
- The patient must be over 18; parental permission or a court waiver is required for those under 18.
- Patients must have an ultrasound. This can be done at the clinic where the abortion will be performed.
Some facilities that sound and appear to be clinics are actually not medical facilities but are establishments supported by anti-abortion groups. These are generally known as Crisis Pregnancy Centers or CPC’s. Their sole purpose is to convince or shame the patient into not having an abortion or to stall the patient long enough to make it impossible to have the procedure. Because CPC’s are not licensed medical facilities, they do not have to abide by HIPAA laws that protect a patient’s privacy. They may share a patient’s information indiscriminately. CPC’s are a threat to women’s health and security.
Everyone seeking an abortion needs reliable information. Contacting Planned Parenthood by phone (1-800-230-7526) or online to discuss your options in a non-judgemental way is always a good place to start. General information about reproductive health including abortion may also be found online through the state chapter of the North Carolina National Organization for Women (NC NOW).
- Patients must receive “counseling” from a physician. Some reliable clinics may do this over the phone. The “counseling statement” was not written by a doctor or medical professional. It was designed to discourage anyone from having an abortion. Let me say that another way so that the irony is clear. A qualified physician is required to read a state-mandated script with false or inaccurate information to her patient.
- Then the patient must wait 72 hours before the procedure.
- Payment is expected on the day of the procedure, unless other arrangements have been made prior to that day. Insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act or through state employee policies is only available if the patient’s life is in danger or in cases of rape or incest. Some clinics will charge on a sliding scale or a patient may be able to get financial help through the Carolina Abortion Fund, a non-profit providing financial support to those seeking an abortion in North or South Carolina.
- On the day of the procedure, the person seeking care must often brave an angry gauntlet of anti-choice protestors to enter the clinic.
To get a legal abortion at a credible clinic in North Carolina, a patient must be emotionally prepared and able to meet the financial and time requirements. For many women this is difficult.
The surgical procedure is not the only way to terminate a pregnancy. In this country and in many others, a person may terminate a pregnancy using a combination of two safe, effective FDA approved drugs – mifepristone and misoprostol. Medication abortion now accounts for 50% of all abortions in the United States and even more in Europe. This avenue for treatment eliminates some the difficulties and burdensome restrictions that apply to procedural abortions.
During the height of the pandemic, the federal government approved the use of a telemedicine appointment for a patient to obtain a prescription for the two pills, taken to terminate a pregnancy. Patients would then get the medications from their pharmacy and take them as prescribed at home. The process from a telemedicine video appointment to completing the course of medication takes several days. The advantage to this method is that the patient does not have to travel or undergo some of the other burdensome aspects of the procedure at a clinic and the inevitable drama of facing anti-choice protestors. However, North Carolina does not allow telemedicine consultations for medication abortion. The patient is legally required to obtain a prescription for these medications in person, from a physician.
Although the surgical procedure and a medication abortion are both safe and effective, differences between these two methods may influence a person’s choice. Medication abortion is less expensive than the surgical procedure, but it is only allowed up to 10 or 11 weeks after the first day of your last period. A medication abortion happens over days rather than on one day for the surgical procedure. This doesn’t take into account the time and effort that goes into dealing with the other requirements of obtaining a legal abortion in North Carolina. For this and other reasons, people in states like North Carolina that don’t allow telemedicine for abortion have found other ways of obtaining the pills through the mail or from sources outside the U.S., like Aid Access, run by Dr. Rebecca Gomperts.
The decision to terminate a pregnancy is complicated. Someone facing that decision will consider the impact of pregnancy on their personal circumstances and health. Choosing between a procedure or medication is another part of that process. With planning and the support of a caring clinical staff and/or family and friends, anyone seeking an abortion in North Carolina may do so legally.
Gerrie Richards is the president of NC NOW in Chapel Hill and is a former high school English teacher in central New York State. She volunteers with the NAACP and is a painting student, focused on watercolor and mixed media.