Abortion bans are only the beginning if Trump wins, doctors and Democrats warn

Abortion bans are only the beginning if Trump wins, doctors and Democrats warn

Mary Lucas, a health care advocate in Raleigh, at a press conference last Friday with Gov. Roy Cooper, (far right), and other Democrats, doctors and reproductive rights advocates. (Photo by Michael McElroy/Cardinal & Pine)

By Michael McElroy

June 24, 2024

On the second anniversary of the fall of Roe v. Wade, Gov. Roy Cooper and others highlight new threats to IVF and birth control.

In the two years since the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, North Carolina and other Republican-controlled states have enacted abortion bans that prevent or delay women from getting the urgent medical care they need, and force doctors to put legal concerns over the health of their patients. 

But if Donald Trump wins a second term in November, North Carolina Democrats and health care advocates said last week, all of that could pale to what comes next.

In a press conference on Friday ahead of today’s two-year anniversary of the court ruling, the message was as much about warnings of the future as it was mourning the past. 

Both Trump and North Carolina Republicans have made it clear that in any second Trump administration, they would call for a national abortion ban and could also target access to IVF and birth control.

“North Carolina’s abortion ban is unacceptable, yet we know that Republicans in our state legislature want to go even further, and we know that Donald Trump would sign a nationwide abortion ban in a New York minute if he gets elected,” Gov. Roy Cooper said at the press conference.

“We’re here almost two years since Roe v. Wade was overturned because of one man, and that is Donald Trump,” Cooper said. 

IVF and birth control

The warnings from the press conference mirror those made by doctors across the country who have charted the dangers women face in the wake of the Roe decision.

And these warnings about new restrictions are not based on wild rumors –  they are based on the words, actions, and in many cases inactions, of Trump and his allies, the speakers said.

After the Alabama Supreme Court blocked access to IVF in February, some prominent Republicans across the country tried to distance themselves from the ruling. But the reasoning cited by the conservative Alabama judges—that life begins at conception—is a core belief of many far-right lawmakers, including Mark Robinson, the Republican nominee for governor. This ‘conception’ belief is the central justification for the abortion bans that Republican legislatures introduced in many states after Roe was overturned.

In April, Democrats in the US House introduced legislation that would protect access to IVF, but Republican leadership has not brought it to a vote. 

This month, Senate Republicans blocked separate bills protecting access to IVF and birth control. 

“As scary as this is,” said Congresswoman Deborah Ross, who represents Wake County, “we know they’re just getting started and that’s what makes November so much more important.”

Congresswoman Valerie Foushee, who represents several counties, including Durham and Orange, also warned that both the existing barriers and any new restrictions would have an outsized effect on women of color.

“For Black women, Trump’s actions have made becoming a mother even more dangerous,” Foushee said. 

“We know that despite Black people making up only 22% of North Carolina’s population, Black women accounted for 43% of pregnancy-related deaths between 2020 and 2022.”

She added: “Two years into a post-Roe world, we are still reeling from the consequences.”

Widespread support for abortion protections

While there are several important issues at stake in the 2024 election, abortion may be near or at the top for many voters.

The majority of North Carolinians and Americans nationwide are against abortion bans, multiple polls show.

“I hear from people who are angry with Republican leaders from Trump to Republicans in the General Assembly who have stripped them of their freedoms and interfered with their most personal healthcare decisions,” Ross said. “I hear from younger women and their husbands who want to have the freedom to choose when and how they start their families.”

But the further threat to reproductive rights is not coming just from national Republicans.

Abortion features prominently across several major races in North Carolina, including governor and attorney general, and in Congressional races and state-legislature races as well. Mark Robinson has said he would sign a 6-week abortion ban if he becomes governor, en route to a full ban down the line.

Robinson, who has called abortion providers “butchers against humanity,” also recently spoke at a gathering sponsored by a far-right Christian group that equates birth control to abortion. 

Congressman Dan Bishop, the Republican nominee for attorney general, has also called for a more severe ban. 

President Biden has vowed to protect abortion access, and if Democrats keep the Senate and win back the House, Fousee and Ross said, Democrats would pass laws enshrining protections for all reproductive rights. 

The Democratic nominees for governor, Attorney General Josh Stein, and attorney general, Rep. Jeff Jackson, have also vowed to do all they can to protect reproductive rights in the state.

‘A terrifying and dangerous experience.’

North Carolina’s Republican-controlled General Assembly passed a 12-week abortion ban 10 months after the Roe decision. But the ban is just part of the assault, doctors say. And while North Carolina’s ban has more exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother than other states, the law is so vague that doctors often are unsure what does and does not count as an exception, forcing them to confer with lawyers to see if a serious condition is serious enough under the law. 

The law also includes several barriers that make it harder for women to access abortion care within the legal window.

Dr. John Purakal, an ER physician in North Carolina, said at Friday’s press conference that he had treated several patients from states with more severe bans.

Not long after Roe was overturned, Purakal said, he treated one patient who traveled hundreds of miles out of fear she’d be prosecuted for seeking an abortion in her home state. 

“Unfortunately, during that time, her health deteriorated,” he said. “What she thought was stress turned out to be a serious infection. She was becoming septic and her pregnancy was failed. The safest medical decision was for her to have an abortion.”

He continued: “But because of Trump and his allies passing extreme abortion bans, her pregnancy turned what should be an informed conversation between a patient and her physician into a terrifying and dangerous experience.

‘I felt my entire life start to change.’

Mary Lucas, a healthcare advocate from Raleigh, said at the press conference that everyone should have the freedom to make the same decision about their futures that she made nearly 20 years ago at 16, when abortion access was fully protected. 

She was in high school when she got pregnant, she said.

“I was getting ready to go to volleyball camp. I was thinking about my junior year of high school and suddenly I felt my entire life start to change,” Luca, now 35, said. “As a child myself, there was no way I could care for a baby. That was in North Carolina when abortion was legal, where I could safely make the right decision for my health and for my future.”

After the Roe decision was announced, she said, she wept. 

“I grieved over what it would mean for women in our state,” she said.

“I’ve had the opportunity to speak with numerous women who have exercised their right to choose at all points of life. And for all kinds of reasons, these women made a decision that was best for them. And each time we share with one another, we break down the barriers for women who are still afraid of the stigma.”

Women of any age should make that decision along with their doctors, she said, “without the input of Trump and his allies over what is a justified reasoning or timeline.”

She added, “Women across America are already suffering the consequences and we simply cannot afford to elect Donald Trump this November.”

Author

  • 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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