New Abortion Bill an Insult to WomenPosted: August 21, 2011
By Whitney Ayres Kenerly
When I was a senior in high school and applying to colleges, I wrote my admission essay about a book that had changed me, The Cider House Rules, by John Irving. The book isn’t exactly a hallmark of the Western canon or intellectually tantamount to the prose of Swann’s Way, but it made me think about reproductive rights in a more complex way, and with more empathy. I realized that despite my Christian conservative upbringing where certain things were not to be questioned or qualified, that people – especially women – were diverse in their experiences and hardships, and that I could never understand, and therefore judge, another human being’s personal choices. I recognized that it was not my right to project moral absolutes on another person’s private decisions. I was 17.
Apparently, the current North Carolina General Assembly has not experienced a similar epiphany. This past session – the first with a Republican majority in both houses since 1870 – passed a controversial bill forcing any woman seeking an abortion to see an ultrasound, listen to the heartbeat as other vital organs are indicated and described, listen to a state-sponsored script about alternative options to abortion, sign a document stipulating that she understands she is terminating the life of a unique human being, and then wait an additional 24 hours before returning to the clinic again for the actual procedure.
“It is a sad day for the women of North Carolina,” said Representative Deborah Ross from Raleigh. The bill was vetoed by Governor Bev Perdue before the Senate overrode the veto with a vote of 29-19. With overwhelmingly Republican partisan support from Representatives such as bill sponsor Ruth Samuelson of Mecklenburg County, and Raleigh Representative Paul Stam, the extreme measures of this bill were part of an unapologetically polarizing conservative itinerary. “The bill has been introduced many many many times before, but it never has gotten this far,” Ross explained, “Speaker Tom Tillis made it very clear at the beginning of this session that this was one of his agenda items for the new Republican majority.”
Advocates for reproductive rights see this bill as an affront to freedom of choice in health care and as an attack on women. “These additional restrictions and regulations were completely unwarranted, and frankly, a blatant unnecessary intrusion into personal private decision-making,” said Jessica Barden, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood. Barden also commented on the tone of the debate in the General Assembly, “Consistently through the debate, there was a subtext that women are not capable of making serious decisions about their own lives and their own healthcare without interference from the government.”
Ross is worried that there has been a pattern of legislation in this General Assembly that disproportionately affects the women of North Carolina in a negative way. She explained, “It’s a disturbing development in the spectrum for how we’ve dealt with women’s issues this session of the General Assembly,” in reference to recent cuts in education, childcare, and other institutions with predominately female employees.
To add insult to injury, evidence suggests that the required actions of this bill would not even be successful in changing a woman’s mind about getting abortion, but simply causes the procedure to be more difficult and expensive. “They feel that women make this decision flippantly,” Barden said of the legislature, “What we know is that, on average, a woman will wait about 10 days between finding out that she’s pregnant and calling to schedule an appointment with an abortion provider. And during this 10 days she is weighing her options, she’s talking with her loved ones, with her clergy if she has one, and really thinking about what’s the best decision for herself and for her family. And I don’t think that any of the information that this bill requires women to hear could change any of the circumstances that lead her to that decision.”
“I don’t know that the bill will change their minds, it will certainly make it harder for them for them to get abortions, and more expensive,” said Ross.
Barden pointed to the inappropriate condemnatory nature of the bill in its treatment of women, “It is just setting up additional roadblocks, and frankly shaming them, and making them feel like the state disapproves of their decision.”
The forced ultrasound is perhaps the cruelest and most invasive aspect of the bill, and a requirement that Barden feels is unnecessary. “About 60% of women who have an abortion in the United States already have at least one child,” Barden commented, “they’ve already seen an ultrasound, they are making a decision that they think is best for themselves and for their existing children.”
The bill also stipulates that the ultrasound must be performed by a licensed sonographer, potentially making the procedure more expensive. “That’s additional training and qualifications that we will have to absorb the cost of,” Barden explained while adding that Planned Parenthood was still making determinations about the adjusted cost of services.
The ultrasound requirement applies to all women, even if they have already seen a previous ultrasound of the same pregnancy. Ross remarked, “There is a group of women that have abortions when they find out that they’re carrying a fetus with severe fetal deformity, and clearly they’ve seen that ultrasound before, but this bill would mandate that they have yet another ultrasound.”
The bill would also make getting abortions more difficult by creating ways to make it easier to sue abortion doctors for malpractice, and consequently discouraging medical professionals from performing the procedure. “This bill has a whole separate section that allows, not just the woman, even the father of an unborn child, even a rapist can sue the doctor if the doctor did not follow the state-sponsored script directly,” stated Ross, “and it’s disrespectful.”
Barden also felt that the legislature made inept assumptions about the need for interference in communication between doctors and patients, noting, “There was this feeling underlying the debate that physicians who perform abortions are somehow withholding information from their patients, which is simply not the case.”
This amount of regulation seems like a hypocritical contrast to a party that typically decries the perceived tendency for government to be too big and domineering. Ross commented on the disconnect between this bill and previous Republican discourse: “They’re saying we need less government regulation, and of course they are regulating the most personal private communications people can have, and they are regulating it both for women and for their physicians.”
Another frustrating irony of this bill is that while making abortions more financially and emotionally difficult for women, this legislature has also made major cuts to family planning programs, as well as cuts to programs for single mothers and children.
“We’re spending all this time paying attention to whether or not a woman gets an abortion while we’re cutting family planning money, outlawing Planned Parenthood from providing health services, cutting Medicaid for women and children, cutting Smart Start and More at Four for at-risk children,” Ross noted. “There is no care for the mother, no care for preventing an unwanted pregnancy, and then obviously after the child is born services have been cut, but meanwhile we’re giving her a state-sponsored speech about all the services we’ll be providing. It’s more than ironic.”
While the legislature is cutting funding to family programs, it will be spending money on creating the informational pamphlets that this bill requires, in English and in Spanish.
The punitive nature of this bill raises concerns that this legislature may try to pass even more harmful legislation for the women of North Carolina. “There are certainly more restrictions that the legislature could place on this procedure that would make it extremely difficult for women in North Carolina, and I have no doubt that they’ll attempt to if they maintain the majority in the state legislature,” said Barden.
For North Carolinians opposed to the passing of this bill who want to know what, if anything, they can do about it now that it has been passed, Ross advised, “They need to know who voted to put this in place and make sure that those senators and representatives understand that their constituents do not like this bill, either by getting their senator or representative committed to changing parts of the bill, or all of it, or just voting against them the next time [they run for office] so that we can get a new majority that might be able to repeal it.”
The choice to get an abortion is a profoundly personal one, with situational complexities as varied as the women of North Carolina. It is for that reason that the choice should belong to the woman who is not only carrying the child in her own body, but who is also the one who is faced with the responsibility of caring and providing for its future in a time of limited upward mobility and shrinking support from government programs. This bill is an insensitive insult to these women and their right to autonomy. It is an unnecessary attempt by legislators to judge and control the lives of their female constituents, instead of representing them and their rights. The people of North Carolina deserve better, and if our current legislators continue to be incapable of demonstrating the same logic possessed by a 17-year-old high school girl, then the empowered women and men of this state will have no choice but to demand better, until we are forced to seek out new representation.
Voted For House Bill 854 — House
- Marilyn Avila – Republican – District 40
- Nelson Dollar – Republican – District 36
- Tom Murry – Republican – District 41
- Paul Stam Republican – District 37
Voted For House Bill 854 — Senate
- Neal Hunt (http://www.ncleg.net/gascripts/members/viewMember.pl?sChamber=S&nUserID=200) – Republican – District 15
Voted Against House Bill 854 — House
- Rosa U. Gill – Democrat – District 33
- Darren G. Jackson – Democrat – District 39
- Grier Martin – Democrat – District 34
- Deborah K. Ross – Democrat – District 38
- Jennifer Weiss – Democrat – District 35
Voted Against House Bill 854 — Senate
* Senator Richard Stevens, Republican, chose not to vote on the bill and was absent. If Stevens had voted against the bill then his vote could have prevented the veto override and the passing of the bill.