Abortion Would Still Be Legal in NC if Roe Falls—But Marginalized Communities Will Suffer

In this 2014 file photo, women protest anti-abortion rights laws passed by North Carolina Republicans. With the US Supreme Court expected to undo Roe V. Wade, elections for the state legislature and the governor's office could be enormous in NC. (Shutterstock)

By Billy Ball

May 3, 2022

Future access to abortion rights in North Carolina will very likely hinge on who wins the state legislature and the governor’s office. 

Editor’s Note: On Friday, June 24, the conservative-majority US Supreme Court stripped away the nation’s constitutional protections for abortion that had stood for nearly a half-century by overturning Roe v. Wade. Click here to check out reactions from North Carolina politicians and advocates.

If Roe v. Wade is overturned—which seems likely after a draft of a US Supreme Court majority opinion leaked Monday night— abortion rights would be all but gone in 13 states. But North Carolina isn’t one of them.

Here’s why: Those 13 states—including places like Kentucky, Tennessee, and Texas—have passed “trigger laws,” meaning that if Roe is no longer in place, those bans would snap into place. 

There’s no such law in North Carolina, and while the Republican-dominated legislature supports banning people from making their own family planning decisions, Gov. Roy Cooper still holds veto power. It’s a power he would almost certainly use to block any legislation that aimed to restrict access to abortion care.

What does that mean in the long term for North Carolina? It means the pressure is on congressional lawmakers to approve federal protections of abortion rights, something many advocates have been seeking for years. 

The US House has already passed the Women’s Health Protection Act, which preserves access to abortion in federal law; however, Republican senators like North Carolina’s Richard Burr and Thom Tillis blocked debate on the legislation earlier this year.

But in lieu of federal protection, what happens in the 2022 and 2024 elections will have huge implications. It’s not unrealistic, for example, that abortion rights in North Carolina could come down to the 2024 race for governor. 

“Abortion presents a profound moral question,” Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the leaked opinion, which was confirmed as authentic Tuesday morning by the conservative-majority high court. “The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each state from regulating or prohibiting abortion.”

The reality is terrifying for supporters of very basic health care rights for anyone who can get pregnant. And many Americans are waking up to that painful reality this morning. 

This Won’t Hurt Everybody the Same

The religious right waged this war for five decades, and it is their intent to ban choice for all women—regardless of rape or incest. There is no hiding that from the American public, which overwhelmingly supports legal abortion, even in right-leaning states like North Carolina

But the GOP zealotry on this issue isn’t going to impact everyone the same. 

Abortion has long been difficult or impossible to access in rural and low-income parts of the country. In North Carolina, access is extremely limited in many regions. Most of the state’s clinics are located in the Piedmont. Just one clinic in Asheville serves the western counties. Another in Wilmington serves the eastern counties.  

If Roe is overturned and states immediately move to limit or restrict abortion rights altogether, it is poor and rural folks—a disproportionate share of them people of color—who will feel the pain first and most acutely. 

As C&P reported in January, Black women accounted for roughly half of the 25,000 abortions performed in North Carolina in 2020. 

In places with an outright ban, people with financial resources will still, for the time being, be able to travel out of state for the care they need. In many states, the folks who don’t have the resources will still seek the care by any means necessary, putting not only their health at risk but also potentially being disproportionately criminalized too. 

Rep. Alma Adams, the longtime congresswoman from Greensboro, put it aptly this morning.

“This is terrifying, and confirms what we already knew: that this extreme Supreme Court is hostile to women,” Adams wrote on Twitter. “But just as important: abortion is still legal, it’s still a right, and it’s still available here in North Carolina.”


  • Billy Ball

    Billy Ball is Cardinal & Pine's senior community editor. He’s covered local, state and national politics, government, education, criminal justice, the environment and immigration in North Carolina for almost two decades, winning state, regional and national awards for his reporting and commentary.

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