State lawmaker says NC leaders must prioritize health care – especially reproductive health care – during the pandemic and beyond
After enduring an election cycle unlike any other, North Carolina legislators are turning our focus back towards the critical work ahead of us in 2021. During my reelection campaign, I talked to many constituents who were concerned about their health care. Some were recently unemployed and unsure of how they could afford their next few months of medical care. Others were worried that one unplanned health expense could put their family into debt beyond repair. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages around us, our General Assembly must prioritize legislation that makes healthcare access more equitable and affordable.
Both the pandemic and the continuing conversation our community is having about racial justice have highlighted the depth of health care disparities in our state, but that inequality was part of our reality long before the pandemic. Every North Carolinian deserves affordable, quality health care that addresses their unique needs and allows them to thrive. We all deserve the freedom to decide if, when, and how to have children; and we all have the right to raise those children in a safe and healthy community. But North Carolinians’ ability to access reproductive health care varies based on how much money we make, where we live, or even our race, gender, or age. As our legislature continues to respond to the pandemic, we must ensure that our health care system works for everyone, starting by removing the required counseling and 72-hour waiting period for abortion care.
There’s no better time than now for our legislature to prioritize equity, access and affordability in reproductive health care by removing burdensome barriers. North Carolina has a total of 14 abortion providers operating in only 17 counties, meaning 83 counties in North Carolina do not have an abortion provider. Incredibly, this leaves 43% of women ages 15-44 without an abortion provider in their county, notably higher than the national average of 34%.
The 72-hour waiting period requires 43% of patients to travel considerable distances across county lines to access reproductive health care and thereby places an undue financial burden on women in our state who need safe and reliable access to family planning services. This requirement isolates rural women from their support systems and burdens them with more financial barriers to abortion access than other women in our state. Taking time off work and waiting three days to receive health care is extremely burdensome for many people in North Carolina, and is especially burdensome, if not impossible, during a pandemic. By repealing the counseling and 72-hour waiting period requirements, our state can break down the financial and political barriers that block many in our state from accessing the crucial reproductive health care they need.
Our state legislature will certainly be balancing many urgent priorities this session as we work together to rebuild our economy and community. The pandemic disrupted much of our 2020 legislative session, and business, labor, and health care leaders are competing for attention as we prepare to take up an especially packed legislative agenda. Regardless, we must remain focused and remember that there are few issues more fundamental to our rights and more entwined with our economy and community than reproductive freedom.
As more and more North Carolinians are teetering on the edge of economic disaster because of the pandemic, we have to make sure that everyone has the freedom to decide if and when they are ready to have children without financial barriers, no matter where they live. We must make reproductive freedom a priority this year by passing legislation to eliminate the laws and barriers that have restricted women’s full and unencumbered access to reproductive health care.
Many obstacles stand between us and reproductive freedom. North Carolinians must hold their elected officials accountable and call on the General Assembly to enact policies that protect and support families through this challenging time. It’s time to demand that our leaders take swift action to advance reproductive freedom and ensure a healthier, stronger and more just future for North Carolina.
Julie von Haefen is the State Representative for House District 36 in Wake County. Rep. von Haefen is a member of the State Innovation Exchange Reproductive Freedom Council, a coalition of legislators dedicated to advancing reproductive health, rights and justice.