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On the one-year anniversary of NC’s 12-week abortion ban, women ready for November

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On the one-year anniversary of NC’s 12-week abortion ban, women ready for November

May 17, 2024 | 5:57 am ET
By Clayton Henkel
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On the one-year anniversary of NC’s 12-week abortion ban, women ready for November
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Janice Robinson, North Carolina Director at Red Wine & Blue, shares her personal story of abortion. (Photo: Clayton Henkel)

It is rare that women who have had an abortion are willing to share their story, much less step into the spotlight and open up about personal, reproductive decisions.

But on Thursday, Janice Robinson and Iliana Santillan stood outside the North Carolina General Assembly to recount their own medical realities and voice concerns about additional restrictions to reproductive healthcare.

Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of the passage of Senate Bill 20, legislation that banned abortions in North Carolina after 12 weeks.

Robinson said in 1975, when she was just 15 years old, she endured a “back-alley abortion” when she was growing up in rural South Carolina.

Roe v. Wade had been decided two years earlier, but her mother didn’t know the U.S. Supreme Court had decided women had a fundamental right to access a safe, legal abortion. Robinson said after the procedure she went home and lost so much blood from the complications that she passed out.

“You’re probably thinking next that I was taken to the hospital. No, I was not. My mother nursed me back to health in our home.”

Robinson said she shares that ‘nightmare’ decades after the fact because she wants people to realize the same horrors could await women and girls who do not have access to safe abortion care, if they choose or need that option.

“They risk being in a similar situation or worse without this care,” Robinson said.

Iliana Santillan speaks at a podium
Iliana Santillan, Executive Director at La Fuerza (Photo: Clayton Henkel)

Santillan said her own journey with abortion started when she was 19 years old. She was in a toxic, chaotic relationship and was using birth-control when she missed her period.

“I was able to access the care I needed without judgment or unnecessary hurdles with the support of a trusted friend. I made the decision that was right for me, but not everyone else is as fortunate,” Santillan said.

Santillan said that in North Carolina, SB 20 stands as a stark and looming reminder of the relentless attacks on reproductive healthcare.

“Let me be clear, our bodies are not up for debate,” she said. “The decisions we make about our reproductive health are deeply personal and should be respected as such.”

Santillan and Robinson were joined at Thursday’s press conference by leading abortion rights advocates and Democratic members of the North Carolina House and Senate, who voiced concerns about the possibility of further restrictions on abortion if Republicans maintain their supermajority in the legislature in 2025.

Rep. Julie von Haefen (D-Wake) said when Senate Bill 20 came before her chamber for a vote, she worried that it would have a dangerous ripple effect throughout North Carolina’s health care system.

“Patients have received substandard care for miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, and other treatments because of the uncertainty created by restrictive laws like this,” she said.

Von Haefen said a pregnant patient in Roxboro was turned away at Person Memorial Hospital’s emergency room after reporting stomach pain.

“The staff failed to tell her how risky it could be for her to depart without being stabilized, according to investigators,” said Rep. von Haefen, reading from a news article about the incident.

The woman gave birth while traveling to another hospital 45 minutes away and her baby did not survive, according to reporting by the Associated Press.

Von Haefen said hospital staff and medical providers are confused about the current state of North Carolina’s law.

Senator Lisa Grafstein
Senator Lisa Grafstein said restrictions to contraception and IVF could be next. (Photo: Clayton Henkel)

“Abortion bans create a culture of fear that keeps doctors from providing the standard of care that they were trained to provide.”

Senator Lisa Grafstein (D-Wake) said the 12-week abortion ban passed in 2023 is far from the end of the story.  Contraception and IVF are also under attack.

“195 Republicans in Congress voted against protecting access to contraception. In North Carolina, I introduced the bill last year as did Representative von Haefen to protect access to contraception. And we could not get a single Republican to sign on to that bill,” said Grafstein.

Democrats have also filed a bill to protect IVF and provide that a fertilized egg is not a human being. No Republicans have signed on.

On Wednesday, Senator Rachel Hunt, who is running for lieutenant governor, filed a bill that would place the right to access abortion, contraception and fertility treatment on the ballot in November with a constitutional amendment.

Senator rachel Hunt speaks while surrounded by supporters
Sen. Rachel Hunt (D-Mecklenburg) announces the introduction of a proposed constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights at a May 15 press conference in Raleigh (photo: Rob Schofield)

That measure has also attracted no Republican support.

Senator Natalie Murdock (D-Durham) said health outcomes are only getting worse due to North Carolina’s 12-week abortion ban.

“We know Black women in the United States are three times more likely to die from pregnancy complications compared to white women,” said Murdock. “And Black women’s concerns and pain are far more likely to be dismissed and ignored.”

Murdock said the combination of a Donald Trump presidency and Mark Robinson as North Carolina’s next governor would ensure a complete and total abortion ban in North Carolina and nationwide.

“Not on our watch,” she said.

The abortion rights group Planned Parenthood announced earlier this spring that it will spend $10 million on North Carolina’s elections this year.

Lt. Governor Mark Robinson, the Republican nominee for governor, has previously said he would like to see a heartbeat bill proposed in the legislature and would support a six-week abortion ban as the state’s next goal.

“The 2024 elections truly are shaping up as a contest between a small number of extremists who want to control our bodies, and the freedoms that we’ve all come to take for granted in our country but are now under attack,” Sen. Grafstein said.