A dishonest and destructive assault on freedom

A dishonest and destructive assault on freedom

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Proponents misrepresent anti-abortion bill that targets poor women

The North Carolina House abandoned its recent flirtation with moderation yesterday by moving a radical new proposal to the House floor that would further restrict abortions. The legislation, which was unveiled in its present form at ten o’clock yesterday morning and rammed through the badly misnamed House Health Committee in less than 50 minutes, would enact a new 72 hour waiting period for women seeking to obtain an abortion and place several new and intrusive requirements on physicians who perform the procedure.

Sponsors and supporters of the proposal – many of whom are on the record as supporting an outright ban on abortions – disingenuously attempted to describe the bill as an effort to defend “a woman’s right to choose.”

As Raleigh’s News & Observer reported, bill sponsor Rep. Pat McElraft said in committee that “We are here to protect life (but) also here to protect a woman’s right to choose.”

As the following statement from advocates at NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina succinctly and powerfully explained however, nothing could be further from the truth:

NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina opposes House Bill 465 because it will not help women. The bill’s 72-hour abortion waiting period regulation is medically unnecessary. We are disappointed that at today’s House Health Committee meeting, only one pro-choice speaker was allowed to be heard. We brought a number of physicians and medical professionals prepared to speak to the problems with this bill and their information was never allowed to reach House Committee members.

H.B. 465 would make it harder for women, who have made a choice about their own body, by making them wait 72 hours, instead of the current 24 hour period, between asking for an abortion and being legally permitted to get one. Mandatory delay laws such as these endanger women’s health and create additional burdens for North Carolina women, especially women in rural areas who often have to travel for many hours to reach a health-care provider, and for women who do not have the resources to take extra time off work or to pay for child-care. According to a study conducted in Texas, on average, women travel 42 miles to visit their nearest clinic (although some women had to travel up to 400 miles) and incur an average of $146 in costs to the additional waiting period. These restrictions have a disproportional impact on low-income women, women of color, immigrant women, and young women. Women who want to get abortions but are denied are three times more likely to fall into poverty than those who can get an abortion, according to recent studies.

The study also showed that waiting periods do not do anything to sway women’s decisions about terminating a pregnancy, but are simply emotional manipulation tactics to shame women and make them feel guilty about making decisions about their own bodies. One-third of the participants in the study said the waiting period negatively affected their well-being.

In the 1992 case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Justice John Paul Stevens pointed out that mandatory waiting periods rest ‘on outmoded or unacceptable assumptions about the decision-making capacity of women.’ The message being sent by state legislatures, essentially, is ‘you must be crazy if you want to obtain an abortion — maybe think about it some more and you’ll come to your senses.’

Suffice it to say that safe medical procedures sought by men, such as vasectomies, are not burdened with such waiting periods.

The bill also increases burdens for the doctors who assist women by performing abortions.

Doctors will have to record detailed information about the “unborn child” including gestational age and ultrasounds with measurements. The bill would even require extensive records from doctors who perform an abortion for the health and safety of the mother. This information would then be submitted to DHHS but only after the doctors have taken the time to remove all identifying information.  The only purpose for these rules seem to be to add in so many requirements that abortions will be too much of a hassle for doctors to perform.

In summary, H.B. 465 in NO way helps North Carolina women and families.”

A sad and familiar story

Of course, the proposal of waiting periods for women seeking to obtain abortions is nothing new. Anti-choice advocates have long pushed them (and an endless array of other delay tactics) in their never-ending to effort to prevent women from obtaining abortions. And sadly, many elected officials and judges have fallen for the notion that such government intrusions in the patient-physician relationship are somehow warranted or acceptable. Many states now have waiting periods – North Carolina’s is currently 24 hours – and some are longer. Moreover, there can be little doubt that anti-abortion advocates would stretch these delays to several days or weeks if they could get away with it.

That said, there should be no mistake as to the destructiveness of the laws — especially for the people most frequently and adversely impacted: poor women. As has always been the case with abortion, the simple truth is that most women of means will find a way to get the healthcare they need – even if it means traveling out of state. They are also more likely to have easier access to birth control.

Poor women (and especially poor women in rural areas), in contrast, will suffer the greatest hardship. The reasons for this are as obvious as they are maddening.

Poor women – who are already much less likely to have access to healthcare – simply do not have the resources (and, often, the freedom) to get to and from the offices of their healthcare providers. Some lack transportation. Some are trapped by family and professional responsibilities. Some literally cannot get away repeatedly from controlling and/or abusive boyfriends or spouses.

Add to this undeniable reality the plain fact that carrying a pregnancy to term is far more dangerous than obtaining a safe, early-term abortion and the waiting period proposal becomes all the more outrageous.

Whither Gov. McCrory?

According to the News & Observer report, sponsors of the bill discarded provisions from the original version that would have attempted to ban abortions at the UNC and ECU medical schools under pressure from the McCrory administration. While moderately encouraging if true, such a situation leaves unaddressed the central and more pressing question of what McCrory would do if the bill finds its way to his desk in its present form.

McCrory famously promised voters in 2012 that he would support no further restrictions on abortion in the state if elected. And while there is some debate about whether the ultimate impact of the bill he signed in 2013 to enact new abortion facility regulations was to further restrict abortion access or not, there is no way that the Governor would be able to tap dance around a harshest-in-the-nation 72 hour waiting period.

Fortunately, if things get that far, McCrory won’t have to look hard find an excellent model for what to do and say. When faced with a 72 hour waiting period bill last year, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said the following in his veto statement:

Lengthening the already extensive waiting period serves no demonstrable purpose other than to create emotional and financial hardships for women who have undoubtedly already spent considerable time wrestling with perhaps the most difficult decision they may ever have to make. Expanding the mandatory waiting period presupposes that women are unable to make up their own minds without further government intervention. This is insulting to women, particularly in light of what the law already requires.”

Let’s hope it doesn’t get that far and that McCrory uses whatever influence he has to help stop this destructive proposal before it ever comes up for a vote on the House floor. If past experience is any indication of the Governor’s ability to pull off such a feat, however, supporters of women’s health and reproductive freedom likely should not get their hopes up.

About the author

Rob Schofield, Director of Research, has three decades of experience as a lawyer, lobbyist, writer, commentator and trainer. At N.C. Policy Watch, Rob writes and edits frequent opinion pieces and blog posts, speaks to various civic groups, appears regularly on TV and radio and helps build and develop movements for change.
rob@ncpolicywatch.com
919-861-2065