Thursday January 22 is the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision in which the Court established that the constitutional right to privacy encompasses the right to choose whether to end a pregnancy. Each year around the anniversary of the Roe, we reflect on how the decision dramatically bolstered women’s health and dignity. But too often we overlook the reality that the legal “right” to abortion care is meaningless if it’s been restricted to the point that it’s out of reach.
At NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, we believe that wherever we live, however much we make, each of us must be able to make our own decisions about pregnancy and parenting. When we support and respect that reproductive health decisions are ours to make, we are all stronger. Instead of restricting reproductive health care – including abortion care – we need solutions to improve all aspects of our health. But across the country and closer to home, politicians are creating new barriers that often make abortion services unaffordable or unavailable.
Politicians in our state have used bans on abortion coverage, waiting periods, medically inaccurate scripts, and medically unnecessary laws to make abortion harder to access, and more expensive. The reality is that these regulations do nothing to make abortion safer or help a woman with her decision—they only serve to make accessing abortion care and other basic reproductive health care services more costly and difficult for the most vulnerable in our state.
For too many women and families in our state, Roe simply is not a reality.
Roe is not a reality for many working families and those struggling to make ends meet. In 2013, Governor McCrory signed into law a bill banning state and municipal governments from offering abortion care coverage to their employees, denying comprehensive reproductive health care coverage to over 367,000 women and families. The governor also signed into law a bill banning abortion coverage in health plans offered through the insurance exchanges. Added to these new laws are those already on the books, eliminating the state abortion fund and only allowing state funding for abortion care in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment.
Roe is not a reality for the fifty-seven percent of North Carolinians who live in the 90% of counties in our state with no abortion care provider. Nor is Roe a reality for the thousands of rural women who live in the Western part of our state, who now have to cross state lines or travel hundreds of miles to the nearest abortion clinic. For too many North Carolinians, their personal reproductive health care decisions are limited by their ability to travel hundreds of miles, take time off work, make multiple visits to a doctor, and find child care.
We must make Roe a reality for all. It’s time to secure reproductive justice for all and to stop the terrible inequities that restrict reproductive health options, including abortion care. Instead of limiting reproductive health care options, we need solutions that improve health and improve a woman’s ability to make the best reproductive health decisions for her circumstances, such as lifting bans on abortion coverage for low-income women and expanding access to comprehensive reproductive health care.
There is no doubt we will continue to face challenges this year just to hold the line in the state policy debate when it comes to reproductive health, rights and justice. But we believe there has also never been a better time to change the conversation about abortion, access to health care, paid family leave, and other reproductive justice issues. Instead of allowing the conversation to be dragged to the right by our anti-choice legislature, we must start a new conversation to once again spark imaginations about building strong communities through policies that empower individuals to make the health decisions best for them. Indeed, this conversation already has started in crowds at Moral Monday rallies, on campuses across the state, and among the young leaders who gathered at NARAL Pro-Choice NC, El Pueblo, YES! and SisterSong’s Reproductive Justice Youth Summit last summer.
The bottom line: If the guarantee of Roe v. Wade is to ever have real meaning for all the women of North Carolina, we must continue to lift our voices and speak out in support of our vision for reproductive health, rights and justice in our state.
Suzanne Buckley is the Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice NC.