Tolling the Damage to Reproductive Freedom from the 2015 General Assembly

This article, from member NARAL-NC Policy Analyst and Operations Coordinator and NCWU board director Chavi Khanna Koneru, was originally published at member NC Justice Center‘s NC Policy Watch site. 

We are finally on the other side of the tunnel that was the 2015 legislative session, and it has now become clear that the reproductive freedoms of North Carolinians have, once again, been gravely harmed.

In the deceptive game they played this session, legislators and the Governor claimed to be looking out for the well-being of women, and gave bills titles such as the “Women and Children’s Protection Act of 2015.” In reality, these bills created additional, unnecessary barriers to access for reproductive care, and imposed severe limitations on choice.

Had the legislature sincerely wanted to promote the health and well-being of women in North Carolina, they might have passed the Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act, which would have prevented pregnant workers from being fired or discriminated against, or the Healthy Pregnancies/Prisoners and Detainees bill, which would have prohibited the use of leg and waist shackles on prisoners during labor. These bills were never even considered. Instead, the legislature spent the session stripping away the reproductive rights of North Carolinians and putting choice in the hands of the state government.

Here’s a look at some of the new rules and restrictions, what proponents claimed about them and what the changes will really mean:

Claim: In order to “empower women,” clinics will now be required to give women 72-hours to think about their decision to seek an abortion.

Reality: The law mandates a 72-hour waiting period between asking for an abortion and having the procedure. This equates to two trips to a clinic that may be very far away, two absences from work and, in some cases, two childcare payments. Does that sound like a law that empowers women, or does it sound like one that shames and punishes them? Furthermore, a woman considering abortion may be forced to “think about her decision” for four to five days if her 72 hours end on a day that the clinic is closed, or if she is not able to get in for her next appointment right away. This restrictive law was passed despite testimony from doctors that waiting periods are medically unnecessary and that mandatory delays add risks to an otherwise safe procedure.

Claim: Doctors will now be “held accountable” for performing later-term abortions.

Reality: Starting in January 2016, doctors will be required to record and submit detailed information about the “unborn child” to the Department of Health and Human Services. This law increases the burden on doctors, in the hopes that it will make them less inclined to perform abortions. At the same time, it allows the state to collect confidential data about the patients who undergo constitutionally protected abortion procedures. (Doctors don’t have to report any information about any other type of reproductive procedure, treatment, or diagnosis to DHHS.)

Claim: Abortion providers will no longer receive state funds for any of their pregnancy prevention programs because, given their interest in providing abortions, they can’t be trusted to provide accurate information or working contraceptives.

Reality: This law defunds two proven and highly regarded sex education programs provided by Planned Parenthood. These programs deliver comprehensive and medically accurate sex education with a full range of options, and have contributed to decreasing teen pregnancy rates in the state. The sole result of this law will be to prevent teenagers from access to great programs that previously allowed them to make informed decisions.

Claim: The body parts of an “unborn child” can no longer be sold in the state.

Reality: Nobody is selling body parts! The sale of fetal tissue is already federally regulated and  in North Carolina, Planned Parenthood, the obvious target of this bill, neither sells nor participates in donation of fetal tissue. However, research that uses fetal tissue is important, and this bill prevents women from having the choice to voluntarily donate fetal tissue after an abortion. It would, for example, prevent a woman who gets an abortion because the fetus has a disease, from donating fetal tissue to research towards a cure for that disease.

Claim: School boards will be given greater freedom to determine the curriculum that teachers use for sex education and will have the ability to create a curriculum that better reflects the values of the community.

Reality: This bill loosens the definition of “experts” permitted to determine the curriculum that teachers use for sex education. Since just about anyone is now considered an expert, teaching the “values of the community,” will likely meaning using religion-based programs that teach medically inaccurate abstinence-only sex-ed. This law alters the 2009 Health Youth Act, which was passed for the explicit purpose of increasing access to comprehensive sex education for North Carolina students – a law that has contributed to the steady decline in teen pregnancies across the state.

Claim: Cutting off food assistance to the childless adults will give them the strong motivation they need to find a job.

Reality: Finally, in yet another slap at freedom of choice in reproduction, this bill, if signed by the Governor, would penalize unemployed, childless adults by terminating their supplemental government nutrition program (SNAP) benefits (government food rations). The proposed law would shame and punish a person, not only for not being able to find a job, but also for making the choice not to have children. This bill is yet another, if less obvious, example of how the General Assembly aims to interfere with the reproductive decisions of North Carolinians.

The bottom line: As you can see, the legislative majority that campaigned and came to power promising to fight “big government” and to “expand the freedom” of average North Carolinians has, instead, spent the 2015 session (along with lots of state tax dollars) inserting government bureaucracy into the most intimate and personal of human decisions. It will be revealing to see whether they have the courage to keep doing so during the upcoming election year. Pro-choice advocates will be working hard to make sure that voters are fully informed.