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On June 21, 2021, Governor Roy Cooper vetoed a 12-week abortion ban in North Carolina, sparking cheers and applause from pro-choice advocates and activists in the state. The Republican-backed bill, dubbed the “Human Life Nondiscrimination Act,” sought to prohibit doctors from performing abortions if the primary reason for the termination was due to the fetus’s race, sex, or Down syndrome diagnosis.
The crowd’s cheers were not merely a response to Gov. Cooper’s veto of the bill, but rather a collective sigh of relief for women’s reproductive rights in North Carolina. The fight for reproductive justice has been long and arduous, with conservative lawmakers repeatedly introducing anti-abortion legislation to whittle away at Roe vs. Wade and restrict access to safe and legal abortion care.
The bill’s supporters argued that it was an attempt to protect unborn children with disabilities from discrimination, pointing to the high rates of abortion for Down syndrome diagnoses. However, this argument is inherently flawed and fails to recognize the autonomy and bodily rights of women. The decision to have an abortion is personal and complex, and it is not the government’s place to make decisions about a woman’s body.
Moreover, the bill’s proponents highlighted the need to protect unborn children of color, yet failed to recognize the impact of systemic racism on women’s reproductive health outcomes. Black women, in particular, have higher rates of maternal mortality, higher rates of unintended pregnancies, and face barriers to accessing comprehensive reproductive health care due to systemic racism.
The Human Life Nondiscrimination Act was just one in a series of anti-abortion bills introduced by North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature. In 2019, lawmakers introduced a “born-alive” bill, which required doctors to care for a fetus that survives an abortion attempt – despite the fact that this is incredibly rare and would force doctors to intervene even if it was not in the best medical interest of the patient or the fetus.
Furthermore, in 2021, a bill was introduced that required doctors to perform an ultrasound before an abortion, advise the woman of the fetal heartbeat, and offer to let her hear it. This is another attempt to shame and intimidate women seeking abortion care, and echoes the national trend of anti-abortion legislation that seems more preoccupied with controlling women’s bodies than protecting life.
While Gov. Cooper’s veto is undoubtedly a victory for reproductive rights, it is important to note the ongoing efforts to restrict access to abortion care. Women in states like North Carolina are facing an uphill battle when it comes to accessing comprehensive reproductive health care, and we must continue to fight for their right to choose.
As we celebrate this victory, we must also recognize the work that lies ahead. We need to support organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, who are fighting on the front lines of the battle for reproductive justice. We must also continue to vote in politicians who will fight for our rights, and push back against the forces of patriarchy and systemic oppression that seek to control our bodies and our lives.
In the end, the question is not about whether or not abortion is “right” or “wrong.” The question is about who gets to make that decision. The answer is clear: it is not the government, not lawmakers, and not religious institutions. It is a deeply personal decision that must be left in the hands of the individual, with the support of compassionate and comprehensive reproductive health care. We must continue to fight for this right, and ensure that reproductive justice is a reality for everyone.