This article was shared with permission from Chaise Lounge.
Late last month, I had the pleasure of lobbying North Carolina representatives with the NC Reproductive Rights Coalition. I really didn’t know what to expect because I was randomly assigned to a lobbying group and to Republican representatives. My group was made up of five women including myself, an OB-Gyn who performs abortions, an attorney who represents youth seeking judicial bypass to receive an abortion, a nurse practitioner, and a twenty-one year old student from Duke University. I wasn’t sure what kind of reception we would get in these offices, but it turned out to be a fascinating experience. Our strategy was to simply ask that the Republican legislators maintain the current abortion laws that we have in North Carolina, abortion legal through the 20th week of pregnancy.
None of the legislators (all male) were in their offices, but we had the opportunity to speak to each of their legislative assistants (LAs) who were all female. And boy did we hear a variety of responses!
At our first stop, we spoke with an LA who initially seemed to want us to leave so that she could go to lunch. But once she found that she had a captive audience, we heard about the thermostat wars in the building, the latest update on the Murdaugh trial in South Carolina, how beautiful the Duke student’s hair is, until I began to think that she was just trying to use up our time so we would not get to the other representatives. Finally, we got around to discussing abortion policy. While she was reluctant to speak on behalf of the legislator, she did tell us that she could not imagine having to face that difficult decision for herself. She stopped short of saying that it should be a woman’s choice, but that was what I inferred from her discomfort. We discussed how the concept of “sanctity of life” includes that of the pregnant person and how further restrictions would put many people’s lives in danger. She also brought up the fact that she knows someone who went ahead with a pregnancy of a child with severe birth defects who is now in financial ruin. She decried the fact that we, as a society, don’t provide enough support for those with disabilities. I believe she has an open mind when it comes to bodily autonomy.
In the next office, the LA was not very friendly, but she took our information sheet. I could tell that she had something she wanted to say, so I asked her if she had any questions for us. Imagine my surprise when she said, “Yes, I want to know when we are going to hold men accountable. Why can’t we have every 13 year old boy get a vasectomy and when they turn 34 and have a good job reverse the operation? 50% of every pregnancy comes from a man. Why aren’t we working on male contraceptives?” Now, our coalition is all about bodily autonomy for everyone, so we are not in favor of her idea of mandatory vasectomies for boys, but she clearly has a point that men need to step up. Fortunately, the doctor in our group was able to let her know that there is work being done on developing male contraceptives, but they are harder to develop than ones for females because blocking thousands of sperm is harder than blocking one egg.
We stopped by two more offices where we received the icy reception that I had originally expected. The LAs took our information sheets and showed us out. One of them informed us that the representative would vote for more restrictions but that they are not “heartless” and do consider the mother.
Our final stop was perhaps the most interesting. The LA was interested in the topic but she did not seem to know a lot about it and was open to learn more. When discussing how further restrictions would cause all sorts of problems for women who were having miscarriages or non-viable pregnancies, she first talked about the possibility of doctors forming “triage” teams to determine whether an abortion could take place. When we pointed out that in rural areas, there are likely not teams of doctors, and what happens if they all disagree? She understood that was not a viable option. She also referred to the cases that we were discussing as “fringe” cases, but in reality, these are the patients that OB/Gyns see every day. People who need abortions later in pregnancy typically need them to protect their own health. We ended the conversation with an agreement that this is a very complicated issue and that legislation is unlikely to be able to handle in a way that centers women’s health.
The team left the legislature with a great appreciation for the women who work there. I wonder how much the legislators listen to these women when making their own decisions? For the ones who spoke with us, we heard women who were wrestling with trying to understand the actual ramifications of the laws. I appreciated their candor and their willingness to enter into conversation with us. And I certainly hope that they took some of what we shared with them to their legislator.
Anna Lynch is a “writer, educator, and champion for all things women.”