Facing a ‘Frightening Moment’ for Abortion Rights in NC, Supporters Say Go to the Polls This Fall

NC Attorney General Josh Stein, US Rep. Deborah Ross, Dr. Erica Pettigrew, a family practitioner, and NC Rep. Rosa Gill at a news conference last week. Pettigrew said her new pregnant patients were hesitant say they were considering abortions. (Photo by Michael McElroy/Cardinal & Pine)

By Michael McElroy

August 8, 2022

‘Republican leaders in the General Assembly are scheming to turn the clock back 50 years,’ Rep. Deborah Ross said last week.

The confusion and fear caused by other states’ abortion bans is causing dangerous problems in North Carolina and highlights the importance of November’s midterm elections, state Democratic leaders and abortion rights advocates said last week.

Dr. Erica Pettigrew, a family practitioner, said at a news conference that her new pregnant patients were hesitant to tell her about past pregnancies or to say they were considering abortions. It was worse, she said, in the states that have passed severe restrictions.

“It is difficult to put into words how devastating it is for my colleagues and their patients in our neighboring states,” Pettigrew said.

“Patients have appointments on the books, but because of politicians they had to be called, one by one, and told they could not get the care that they need, the care they could have had a week prior.”

She added: “Sobbing despair, threats of suicide, those were often the reactions my colleagues heard when they had to make these devasting calls. The moral injury to all involved cannot be underestimated.”

While North Carolina is a safe haven for reproductive rights in the South, that could change in November, state Democratic leaders.

It is only the threat of a veto from Gov. Roy Cooper that has prevented Republicans from passing extreme abortion restrictions, Attorney General Josh Stein said in a news conference with other Democrats on Wednesday. Cooper could lose that power if Republicans win just a few more seats in the legislature in the November elections.

Abortion rights advocates and Democrats have been reminding voters of that as this fall’s midterm elections approach.

“I will do everything in my power to protect those reproductive freedoms in North Carolina,” Stein said, but “I also want folks to know that to the extent they value that right they have to be vigilant. Because that right is on the ballot. If the Republicans gain a supermajority in the legislature, they have made it crystal clear that they will strip women of those rights.”

The situation has created a “frightening moment” in North Carolina, US Rep. Deborah Ross said at the press conference.

“Women across the country are scared,” Ross said.
“They fear for their health, and they fear for their safety. They fear for their futures and they fear for their daughter’s futures.”

The state’s current status would not protect it from future laws, Ross, who represents Wake County, said.

“Republican leaders in the General Assembly are scheming to turn the clock back 50 years. They have made it abundantly clear that if given the chance they’ll enact restrictive abortion bans just like the draconian laws we are seeing in states all around the country.”

She added: “All of us here have one message for them: We will not go back.”

Abortion is legal in North Carolina up to 24 weeks, and after that if the mother’s life is in danger. (A 20-week ban was put on hold in 2019 while the courts assess its constitutionality.)

House Democrats have passed several pieces of legislation that would codify Roe’s protections at the federal level and protect patients who cross state lines to get abortion care, but both have virtually no chance of passing in the more evenly-divided Senate.

Voter participation often falls off in midterm elections, but this year’s ballot could be the last line of defense for abortion rights in North Carolina, said state Rep. Rosa Gill, who represents Wake County.

Prochoice voters, advocates and officials had the responsibility, Gill said, “to ensure that the legislative candidates we choose to serve in our General Assembly in November will protect the right of legal abortions.”

The “chilling effect,” Pettigrew said, was also affecting patients having miscarriages or other emergency situations that have nothing to do with abortions.

“There is dangerous confusion right now in several of our neighboring states over pregnancy related life-threatening conditions, like ectopic pregnancies, when the pregnancy takes place outside of the uterus,” she said.

Many of the procedures used to address these emergencies are similar to those used in an abortion, and there are growing reports and evidence that because of the fear of litigation, some doctors in the these states are waiting or being instructed to wait to deliver these life-saving procedures until patients are gravely ill.

“This is unconscionable. How is that pro-life?” she said. “This is what happens when politicians try to practice medicine.”


  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.

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