Reproductive rights advocates may have won the electoral war in 2012, but legislatively, we’re perpetually on the defense.
NARAL Pro-Choice America found that in 2012, six states enacted eight pro-choice measures. Pro-choice “victories” include California’s extension of the Access Through Primary Care Project, which permits nurse practitioners and physician assistants to provide early abortion care in areas with a shortage of physicians. Vermont and Indiana introduced measures to improve low-income individuals’ access to reproductive health services through Medicaid. It’s upsetting that legislative outcomes like promoting healthy childbearing and protecting confidentiality have to be called “victories.” But you take what you can get.
The single biggest thing that we can celebrate from President Obama’s first term is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Insurance plans are now required to cover without co-pay preventive health services for women, including FDA-approved contraceptive methods and cancer screenings.
The reality is that the vast majority of anti-choice legislation comes from state legislatures like the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA). The NCGA has a track record of restricting reproductive freedom; their efforts were slowed with former Gov. Bev Purdue’s vetoes on anti-choice legislation.
In Gov. Pat McCrory’s inaugural address this past Saturday, he said, “Government should not and cannot be a barricade or an obstacle to progress. Our face and our approach should be outward like we are today, not inward.”
Indeed, in the final gubernatorial debate between McCrory and Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, McCrory said that he would not support additional obstacles on a woman’s right to safe, legal abortion care. Will he keep this pledge? Or does this “outward-looking” approach really mean intrusions upon the private conversations between a woman and her doctor?
Perhaps an example will demonstrate where the state’s priorities lie. In 2011, the NCGA passed House Bill 289, which authorized the issuance of a “Choose Life” license plate. However, amendments proposing plates in favor of reproductive freedom, with messages such as “Respect Choice,” were repeatedly rejected. The American Civil Liberties Union immediately filed a suit to force the state to also offer a pro-choice plate. Judge James Fox of the U.S. District Court for Eastern North Carolina issued an injunction in November of 2011 and this past December ruled that only offering anti-choice plates “constitutes viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment.”
Our state announced earlier this month that it will officially appeal Judge Fox’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
What an excellent expenditure of taxpayer dollars! Rather than dropping the issue altogether or concurrently offering a “Respect Choice,” plate (which sounds rather ideologically consistent given Republican attitudes on other issues, such as schools), the state is belaboring the point.
Maybe (in this case), North Carolina should learn from our southern neighbor. In 2004, the same court to which the state is appealing upheld a South Carolina judge’s ruling that the “Choose Life” plates approved by South Carolina lawmakers were unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court did not agree to hear the case. Shortly after, South Carolina legislators passed another law, which permitted nonprofits to apply directly for special license plates. Problem solved.
The connection between this case and how North Carolina views reproductive freedom is elucidated in the destination of funds from the “Choose Life,” license plate sales: $15 of the $25 were directed to the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, an association of nonprofit pregnancy counseling centers.
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There are approximately 122 crisis pregnancy centers in North Carolina; indeed, there’s one 3.9 miles from West Campus. They lure women in with free pregnancy tests and supposedly unbiased counseling and then offer medically inaccurate information. North Carolina should not be in the business of channeling money to these centers, especially as the NCGA attempts to defund Planned Parenthood.
This month marked the 40th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision affirming a woman’s constitutionally protected right to an abortion. In a recent interview with Salon, Nancy Keenan, the president of NARAL, voiced concern that there’s an “intensity gap,” in our generation in regards to advocating for reproductive rights. About millennials (i.e., us) she said, “They are pro-choice, but they don’t put the issue of protecting this decision at the top of their list.”
Do we recognize that these battles weren’t put to rest in the 1970s? And are we, as students in North Carolina, aware that many of these battles are being fought right here?
Samantha Lachman is a Trinity senior. Her column runs every other Tuesday. Follow her on Twitter @SamLachman.