With time running out to convince lawmakers to withdraw support for an abortion ban recently passed by the state legislature, advocates in North Carolina are intensifying their pressure campaign with protests and pleas to legislators.
Demonstrators rallied in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Sunday to denounce the passage of SB 20, a new measure that bans abortion after 12 weeks, by Republican legislators.
North Carolina’s Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, has vowed to veto the measure, and is expected to do so in the coming days. Although Republican lawmakers currently hold a veto-proof majority, advocates are hoping to use the time before the bill returns to the legislature to convince lawmakers to change their minds. Only one Republican would need to vote against an override to sink the bill.
The bill passed both chambers of the North Carolina legislature in a process criticized by many as rushed. While the bill is more permissive than the outright bans in many other states in the region, reproductive rights supporters have criticized other provisions of the law for creating unnecessary barriers for people seeking care.
An extended waiting period, for example, requires patients to attend three in-person appointments – two prior to a medication or surgical abortion and one follow-up – each 72 hours apart. Advocates and providers say the provision places a burden on patients with limited access to transportation or who have work or childcare obligations, and that it could push someone beyond the 12-week limit.
The bill also includes a requirement that providers send information about patients to the state’s department of health and human services and requires clinics to acquire licensing as “ambulatory surgical centers”, a lengthy and expensive process that several of the state’s abortion providers say could require them to close.
North Carolina became a destination for abortion seekers after the US supreme court overturned Roe v Wade in June 2022. As restrictions tightened in much of the south, the number of people traveling to the state for abortion care spiked by 37%, according to the Society of Family Planning. Another report by the same group shows an average increase of 788 patients monthly in the months after the decision, and Planned Parenthood estimates that one-third of North Carolina patients seeking abortions since the decision came from outside the state.
It is an economic punishment as much as a moral judgment that they’re casting
“It is an economic punishment as much as a moral judgment that they’re casting and I think [it] is really beyond the pale,” said Justine Orlovsky-Schnitzler of the Carolina Abortion Fund (Caf), an organization with longstanding relationships with abortion providers throughout the state. After the overturning of Roe, she said, Caf’s clientele increased “astronomically”. Before that decision, Caf responded to 100 to 120 calls a week – now it sees that many calls in a single day, mainly due to patients traveling from surrounding states with strict abortion bans.
“Abortion bans won’t stop people from wanting or seeking this care. There are some lawmakers in the state who have previously indicated that they would not support additional restrictions on abortion care. And if we can push them, there’s hope,” Orlovsky-Schnitzler said.
Groups like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and Planned Parenthood are urging communities to call their representatives with demands that they honor their word on protecting abortion access. In addition, Planned Parenthood has increased spending on advertising and dispatched its most active partners – from Latino organizers and voting rights advocates to residents of rural pockets of the state – to lobby lawmakers.
“We’re doing everything we can to reach people under a really tight deadline and let them know that yes, Governor Cooper has already made plans to veto this bill but that’s not the end of this fight,” said Molly Rivera, communications director for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.
Advocates have set their sights on Tricia Cotham, a formerly Democratic lawmaker who switched parties last month, giving Republicans their veto-proof majority. Cotham has openly opposed restrictions on abortion in the past.
They are also focused on Republican representative Ted Davis, who represents district 20 of New Hanover county. Davis has opposed restrictions beyond the current 20-week ban in the past, but voted in favor of SB 20. On Monday, advocates from Planned Parenthood were on the ground talking to his constituents, mainly small business owners who have taken a public stance on the issue, according to Rivera.
Saige Smith, who attended Sunday’s rally as an organizer with a local chapter of the DSA, was one of the hundreds of people waiting in the dark outside the general assembly as house members voted on SB 20 on Wednesday night, and one of the first seated in the gallery on Thursday morning as the vote came up before the senate.
Now, she’s working with the DSA to pressure lawmakers like Cotham who, despite having opposed or wavered in their stance on abortion restrictions in the past, voted in favor of SB 20.
“We’ve been telling everybody to go one step further than contacting their own legislators and make those extra calls,” Smith said. “Everybody should have the freedom to participate in democracy, which in a lot of ways begins at having a right to your own body. If they can tell you what to do with your body, they can tell you anything.”
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