On June 8, The Chronicle published a guest column by Duke Law student Paige Brasington that criticized an email sent by Duke’s Office of Student Affairs expressing concern about Senate Bill 20. In addition to complaining about feeling unwelcome because of her pro-life views, Brasington reproduced factually incorrect talking points and misrepresented the severity of the bill’s restrictions.
She cites the laws around abortion in various European countries in an effort to make North Carolina’s latest law seem like a “compromise.” But this comparison is misleading. It’s true that countries like Italy and France have restrictions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, but after that, a simple doctor’s authorization is all that’s needed to approve an abortion. Approvable reasons go far beyond fetal anomaly or the life of the mother; they also include a woman’s psychological health, their ability to care for (another) child and housing or financial instability.
Likewise, in many European countries, the cost of abortion care is covered by federal healthcare services and is widely geographically available. When people do decide to have a child, they’re often visited by midwives postpartum, provided with childcare services, guaranteed family leave, given financial support and the benefits of living in a society that prioritizes health and human services.
Compare this to the United States: no federal dollars are used for abortion care, and only 17 states provide coverage under Medicaid. North Carolina is not one of those states, and state employees are also denied coverage under their insurance.
In addition to the procedure itself, which can cost several hundred dollars, people may need to arrange childcare, transportation and time off work. SB 20 intentionally makes these burdens more onerous. After July 1, even fewer clinics in NC will meet the standards of the new bill. These standards aren’t informed by any evidence-based medicine and require equipment and staff unnecessary for abortion care. Travel times for in-state patients will increase, and wait times for appointments will go up at remaining clinics — most of which are already at capacity as North Carolina attempts to provide care to those who don’t have access in states across the South.
The bill also requires women seeking abortions or miscarriage management to see a doctor multiple times. Counseling must now be done in-person 72 hours before either medication or surgical procedures, increasing costs for lodging and travel. Physicians have made it clear that even one in-person visit is unnecessary for medication abortions, as the drugs are safer than over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen and Tylenol. Suddenly, 12 weeks seems like a much shorter amount of time.
But the anger expressed by Brasington in her article was largely directed at the email itself. Is it really “incredibly inappropriate” that Duke’s Office of Student Affairs send a message to its student body about new laws, including information about the health care available to them under their insurance plan? Is it unreasonable to express empathy for students and their concerns about threats to their rights?
There’s also some misleading information about who supports abortion access. In a poll done in February by Meredith College, a majority of North Carolinians were for either expanding access or keeping the law the same. The idea that “most Americans” consider allowing abortions up to 20 weeks “extreme” is absurd, as is the idea that Duke has “shut down discussion” on the issue.
Troublingly, she also accuses the email of “euphemistically” referring to second-trimester abortions when it states that “reproductive health services are evidence-based, essential healthcare.” Second-trimester abortions are often brought up as an emotional ploy, used to imply that those who terminate pregnancies “so late” ought to be ashamed of their immoral behavior. But needing an abortion at any point during pregnancy isn’t something to be ashamed of. It’s not a decision that anyone makes lightly. Many excited parents are given horrible news about a pregnancy they very much wanted, and have to terminate. Sometimes, girls are lied to about how far along they are by crisis pregnancy centers, causing them to delay actual care. Sometimes it takes people several weeks to save up the money to afford the procedure and all it entails.
Regardless of the reason someone would need an abortion after 12 weeks, the state has no business telling physicians and their patients what kind of care is allowed. Second-trimester abortions are an example of evidence-based essential healthcare. It’s crucial that Brasington and other future lawyers understand the differences between evidence-based medicine and ideology.
Duke University has an obligation to provide guidance and resources around reproductive health which meet nationally-accepted standards of care. And many students and employees rely on the insurance provided by the university. Duke Health is a top-ranked institution, and the doctors, nurses, support staff and medical students in obstetrics and gynecology deserve to have their work recognized and supported.
As a private school, Duke is free to make its views known, much as Notre Dame, Liberty and Brigham Young University are free to express their “pro-life” or pro-abstinence views. If Brasington and others have felt ostracized, perhaps they can use the experience to empathize with how it feels to need an abortion but be too ashamed, too frightened or too broke to get the procedure.
If anyone has “omitted crucial facts,” it’s Brasington. This bill is not a compromise. It is intentionally designed to block and restrict access to abortion with the goal of preventing it altogether. The result will not be fewer abortions, though. Pregnant people will die trying to obtain the care they need or be put through excessive psychological, financial and emotional turmoil. We know this because it’s already happening.
And to Brasington herself, who I am sure will read this and feel more unwelcome than before: I’m sorry that you read an email that made you feel unwelcome at the university you elected to attend. I hope you never have to face the difficult choices that you so disdainfully referenced in your article. But still, if ever you or anyone else on this campus needs an abortion, I will support your choice. I’ll even drive you to the appointment.
Savannah Marciezyk is a fifth-year doctoral candidate in the English department at Duke.
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