Roundtable sheds light on threat to abortion care

The roundtable was held June 25 in Asheville. Sophie Mestas photo The roundtable was held June 25 in Asheville. Sophie Mestas photo

June 24 marked the two-year anniversary of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade. Since then, 21 of 50 states have enacted some variation of abortion restrictions, whether that be an outright ban or a time limit for when the procedure can be performed.

North Carolina is one of the states that has limited abortion access. 

The 2024 Election has been pinpointed as the deciding factor for women’s health in the U.S. Many see this as a make-or-break for abortion protection depending on who wins the Oval Office in November.

“This is the most important election of our lives,” Former state Sen. Terry Van Duyn (D-Buncombe) said. “The Dobbs decision is not the end of a tax on reproductive freedom, it is only the beginning of the relentless attacks Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans will make against our rights to make decisions including abortion, contraception and fertility treatment.”

Van Duyn, joined by women from around Western North Carolina, gathered in a coffee shop in downtown Asheville June 25 to discuss the impact of the overturning of Roe v. Wade and how it has affected them individually along with the fears they have for the future of women’s reproductive health. 

Van Duyn and state Rep. Lindsey Prather (D-Buncombe), with the endorsement of the Biden-Harris campaign, hosted the roundtable discussion where speakers shared their personal anecdotes about the impact of the Dobbs decision.

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Under current North Carolina law, abortion is banned after 12 weeks of gestation with exceptions for rape, incest, life-limiting anomalies and medical emergencies banned after 24 weeks. Prior to an abortion procedure, women must be informed about the procedure and the anatomy of the growing fetus.

Former President Donald Trump has taken credit for the overturning of Roe v. Wade which returned the responsibility of abortion legislation to the state level making way for abortion bans across the country. 

Ellen Helms, an advocate for reproductive health and the granddaughter of late former U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, has championed reproductive health protections in opposition to her grandfather’s policy stances. Helms pointed out during the roundtable that one in three women of reproductive age live in states with abortion bans, and the U.S. is one of four countries that is regressing in its abortion legislation.

“In El Salvador, women are jailed for years for miscarriage suspected abortion. Not just a few months, for years they were locked away for murder. We cannot allow this to happen in the United States.” Helms said. 

Helms went on to point the finger at Trump for the threat to women’s lives with the overturning of Roe v. Wade. 

“Donald Trump’s attack on our rights is costing women in North Carolina and across the states their lives, forcing people to continue a pregnancy against their will and giving birth when they do not wish to do so and doing so could put their lives in danger.” Helms said. “We’re talking about a private health care decision between doctors and their patients.”

Women from around the state have felt the effects of that limit. A healthcare provider flight has started where OB-GYNs and other providers are leaving the state due to fear of prosecution for performing abortions in North Carolina. According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, 90% of North Carolina counties suffer from a health professional shortage.

Dr. Kate Mastriani, a healthcare provider in Western North Carolina, shares the sentiments of her fellow healthcare providers.

“Physicians don’t want to practice in an area where they could be criminalized for saving someone’s life,” Mastriani said. “There are rural areas where they are no longer allowed to deliver babies because no one wants to practice in that state anymore.”

Under North Carolina law, anyone found to have violated the abortion law will be found guilty of a Class D felony and be fined $250,000. A medical provider can perform an abortion to remove a nonviable fetus that has died of natural causes under the current law, but many fear how this may be viewed in court.

Idaho’s Defense of Life Act, similar to North Carolina’s abortion law, bans abortions outside of the first trimester of a pregnancy with exceptions for threat to the life of the mother, rape and incest. If any physician were deemed to violate this law, they would serve a minimum of 2 years in prison. 

With prison time hanging over the heads of physicians across the country, some are choosing not to practice in states with abortion bans making emergency abortion care scarce within those states.

Recently, in vitro fertilization (IVF) has become a target.

The Alabama Supreme Court ruled that embryos created through IVF that are stored in cryogenic nurseries are considered children and are protected under the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act. This ruling could have led to the prosecution of IVF providers had the state legislature not passed a bill that protected physicians.

In North Carolina, Prather introduced a bill in May that would protect the right to assisted reproductive technology, like IVF, and would appropriate funds to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services to increase funding for maternal support programs.

Right to life advocates view abortion as an attack on human life.

North Carolina gubernatorial candidate and current Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson supports abortion bans after a heartbeat has been detected in the fetus with exceptions in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother.

“For me, there is no compromise on abortion. It makes no difference to me why or how that child ended up in the womb,” Robinson said in July 2020. 

He has since softened his approach on abortion since his campaign for lieutenant governor and after the Dobbs decision. He now chooses to avoid discussing abortion while campaigning for the governorship. 

Trump believed states should decide for themselves how they want to legislate abortion. He appointed three Supreme Court justices, which led to the overturning of Roe and paved the way for the state-specific abortion legislation. 

In an interview with Time Magazine, Trump said, “You don’t need a federal ban. We just got out of the federal.” He further explains that he would not have the opportunity to veto a federal abortion ban because it would never pass Congress. Yet, people still fear what abortion legislation means for them personally.

Helms’ daughter, Beatrix Gaddy, views abortion bans as an oppression of women.

“For a while, everyone viewed women as something lower than them,” she said. “We shouldn’t let men control us because why would anyone believe them? We should have the same rights as men, and we shouldn’t let them choose what is good for us because we should choose what is good for our own bodies.”

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