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A year later, the impact of North Carolina's 12-week abortion ban came into focus

RALEIGH, NC — It's been a year since North Carolina passed a historic list of abortion restrictions.

You may remember Gov. Roy Cooper's intense, last-ditch effort to storm the state and appeal to state lawmakers who had promised not to enact new restrictions.

But on May 16, 2023 the new Republican will arrive Supermajority in the Legislature voted to override his veto.

And the most restrictive abortion law in a generation became law. A year later, the full impact of the law is becoming increasingly clear – for both supporters and opponents.

Numerous questions surround the topic: Who is most affected? What women with pregnancy complications who apply for exemptions must prove. And what happens next in the fight for access?

Abortion providers and an abortion opponent we spoke with are in the middle of this fight.

It took two weeks for the state legislature to reverse decades-old abortion rights in North Carolina last year.

In the months since, abortion providers like gynecologist Amy Bryant – face difficult decisions every day.

Dr. Bryant has been providing abortion care at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Chapel Hill for 15 years.

“It’s just so detrimental to patient care and the patient-physician relationship that these bans are in place,” Bryant said.

She remembers a difficult conversation with a single mother of two children who had fallen just before the twelfth week.

“She was 13 weeks old,” Bryant said. “And we just both sat in the room crying, like it was just so hard to know that you can take care of someone and have to turn them over.” away.”

“So I don’t know what happened to her. It’s terrible.”

The state's abortion law makes it illegal, with few exceptions, to obtain or perform an abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy. Two in-person visits are required.

And between those visits, it will implement the longest waiting period in the country at 72 hours – similar to Utah.

Dr. Bryant says most of her patients are working mothers, so taking up to five days off is often not possible.

“Obviously the people who are hit hardest are the people who are the most vulnerable and marginalized, the people who have the least access to health care in the first place,” Bryant said.

Tami Fitzgerald of the NC Values ​​Coalition is proud of the advocacy that helped pass the state's abortion law.

“We should care about helping women choose life instead of choosing abortion, instead of feeling like it’s the only choice they have.”

But she wants more restrictions.

“We believe 12 weeks is too long,” Fitzgerald said. “Most abortions in North Carolina, 90% of abortions, are performed before 12 weeks of pregnancy. Therefore, we hope that we can further push this pregnancy limit in the future.”

There are three exceptions to the 12-week limit for women with dangerous pregnancy complications.

In cases of rape or incest, a “life-limiting” fetal anomaly, or to protect the life of the mother.

The state will be notified of any exceptions, according to Planned Parenthood's lead attorney for the center.Atlantic Region.

“All abortions must be reported to the state on state forms,” said Susanna Birdsong, senior attorney for Planned Parenthood. “And if you have an abortion under one of the exceptions, additional reporting must be made, including submitting an ultrasound image to the state for statistical purposes.”

Names and addresses are not included in these forms.

Dr. Bryant also says she has not yet been turned down by the state for an exception.

“The fact that it is more difficult is also the point of this law,” said Bryant.

It works?

“Ironically, I don’t think that’s the case,” Bryant said. “There is simply a demand for abortion, people understanding that it is essential to their dignity and their humanity.”

The numbers support this claim.

This week, the Society of Family Planning released its latest report tracking abortions by state.

And although there was a sharp decline in the immediate months after the law went into effect, abortions are back to the same levels they were before the law.

For example, there were 3,550 abortions in December 2023 – the previous year there were 4,070.

Something Fitzgerald acknowledges means they still have more work to do.

“I think even though we can win victories in the legislature and in the courts,” Fitzgerald said. “We still have some victories to win in the hearts and minds of the people of our country.”

Virginia is now the only southern state without a ban on abortion.

But North Carolina is the closest for those in states like Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, where bans take effect after six weeks. Abortion providers say this means that while there is still demand in our state, women from other states will now travel here.

Bryant explains that for some women, traveling to another state can add another obstacle to an already difficult process. These situations can be a burden for providers who want to make the experience as easy and convenient as possible.

“It's really unclear whether it's this person who already has a lot of barriers, for example not speaking English or having children at home to look after, they may not have a supportive partner “All kinds of life circumstances make it really difficult for them to travel to another state,” Bryant said. “Let's say they go to Virginia, and these people are forced to have a child that they didn't plan on and that they don't think they have the emotional or economic capacity to care for.”

Anna Harden

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