On March 23 of this year, House Bill 2, the “Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act”, was introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly, passed in the House and Senate, and signed into law by Governor McCrory.
According to its defenders, the new law is principally about “protecting women and children.” A campaign in favor of the law, “Keep NC Safe,” is well known for producing rally signs that read “Keep Women Safe,” “Keep Children Safe,” and “No Men in Women’s Bathrooms,” thus further perpetuating the false idea that trans people are predatory and dangerous. I have even heard first-hand during meetings with legislators the sincerely-expressed belief that without HB2, voyeurs may feel emboldened to take photos of women while they are using the restroom.
Governor McCrory embraced this argument on April 12 when he announced a follow-up Executive Order to HB2 (which actually did nothing to change the law itself) affirming “the state’s commitment to privacy and equality.”
Now flash back a year to June 5, 2015. On that date, McCrory signed into law House Bill 465, an extreme piece of anti-abortion legislation deceptively entitled the “Women and Children’s Protection Act of 2015” that had passed both chambers of the General Assembly just days earlier. Among other things, HB 465 imposed a 72-hour waiting period for people attempting to access abortion care and, remarkably, required abortion providers to send ultrasound images to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services of any abortions performed after sixteen weeks.
The hypocrisy of the “HB2 is about privacy!” argument comes into stark relief when one considers that the majority of lawmakers who voted in favor of HB2 also voted in favor of HB 465, a bill that requires the most intimate health information imaginable to be given to a third party. Simply put, it’s clear that the North Carolina General Assembly and Governor McCrory only care about “women’s safety and privacy” when women can be used as a prop for anti-trans policies and legalized discrimination.
Conservative elected officials and anti-choice advocates cannot claim that they are protecting women’s privacy with HB2 when they also pass laws that directly and destructively infringe on patient privacy, like HB 465 and refuse to consider any legislation that actually protects reproductive health.
Sadly, this paternalistic protection rhetoric is familiar. Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws, for example, are introduced and made law under the guise of protecting women’s safety. Anti-choice advocates and conservative lawmakers promote the false idea that abortion is unsafe and that, therefore, the procedure itself and the facilities where abortions are performed must be subjected to restrictions and regulations which far exceed the standards to which medical providers are accustomed.
North Carolina’s own TRAP laws were passed and signed into law in 2013 as part of SB 353, the infamous “Motorcycle Vagina” omnibus bill. SB 353 requires abortion clinics to have structural standards comparable to those of surgical centers, which is unnecessary and extremely costly. TRAP laws such as North Carolina’s have caused clinics across our state and the nation to close, effectively restricting access to a normal, legal medical procedure. Nothing about TRAP, or any other anti-abortion legislation, actually protects people seeking abortion care.
The tragic common thread in all of this is that anti-trans and anti-choice proposals like HB2, HB 465, and SB 353 all seek to strip people of their bodily autonomy. These laws are all reproductive justice issues: they are designed to control the way certain bodies exist, move through, and experience the world, and were created to remove people’s agency in making the decisions that are best for them. Furthermore, these laws all claim to protect women, when none of them actually do so.
Women will not stand idly by while the conservative supermajority in the North Carolina General Assembly speaks for us without even inviting us to the table. If these lawmakers really want to protect us, they must enact policies that defend and advance reproductive health and rights for all North Carolinians, keeping in mind that trans and non-binary individuals also need to access abortion care. They must stop using us as an absent mouthpiece for their anti-trans agenda.
North Carolina General Assembly leaders have made it their goal to conclude the session this month, which means they now have scant few days to repeal HB2. However, even if lawmakers do repeal HB2, this doesn’t mean they’re in the clear: women will remember the legislators who used us to pass an anti-trans, anti-queer and anti-worker bill at the ballot box in November.
Sarah Hogg is a queer feminist activist and the Advocacy & Organizing Manager at NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina.