Demonstrators outside the US Supreme Court, following the court's shift right on abortion rights. (Image via Shutterstock) Abortion Rights In Peril
Demonstrators outside the US Supreme Court, following the court's shift right on abortion rights. (Image via Shutterstock)

After the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, a town hall led by U.S. Rep. Alma Adams unpacks the stakes in this year’s elections.

North Carolina is, for now, a safe haven for abortion rights in the South. And Paige Johnson, vice president of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, says she can tell. 

The organization’s Charlotte clinic is being visited by a growing number of patients from out of state, Johnson said, speaking at a town hall on abortion rights Wednesday in N.C. 

That’s just one of the practical fallouts for North Carolina after the Dobbs v. Jackson Supreme Court decision in June sent shockwaves across the country. The decision overturned Roe v. Wade and stripped away the constitutional right to an abortion. Across the country, many abortion bans and limits immediately went into effect although states without an overarching abortion ban, like North Carolina, are still relatively safe. 

The fallout and confusion has continued, and U.S. Rep. Alma Adams, a Democrat representing Charlotte, held a virtual town hall Wednesday focused on women’s health and reproductive rights to answer questions about the state of abortion access in North Carolina and the fight going forward.

This fall’s elections in North Carolina, including races for two crucial seats on the N.C. Supreme Court, will play an outsized role in abortion rights in the years to come. 

Adams was joined by Johnson; Brooke Adams, president of the Reproductive Rights Coalition in Charlotte; Dr. Tiffani Jones, a Charlotte OB GYN; and Dr. Lydia Calamari, a Charlotte primary care physician.

After Vice President Kamala Harris addressed the group in a pre-recorded video, Adams noted she was arrested outside the Supreme Court last month at an abortion rights protest. Adams says the rollback of individual rights should not be tolerated.

“Our granddaughters shouldn’t have fewer rights than our daughters have,” Adams said.

Johnson said the number of those seeking abortions from out of state in North Carolina has tripled in recent weeks. Half of all patients in Charlotte are from out of state, while statewide those from out of state make up 41%of all patients, she said. 

As questions read by staffers came in, one theme was what those who believe in abortion access can do now. As Adams put it: “You can’t have good policy if you don’t have good policymakers.” 

What’s the state of abortion rights in NC? 

Several of the speakers noted that abortion remains accessible in North Carolina because of the veto power of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper over the GOP-controlled legislature. Republican leaders have said they plan to restrict or ban access to abortion if they take a supermajority of seats in November — only needing to gain two seats in the state Senate and three in the House to do so. A GOP supermajority could override the governor’s veto. [The progressive group Carolina Forward has identified a slate of candidates running in swing districts who are expected to have highly competitive races.]

Adams said she would look to do her part by seeking to codify the right to abortions and contraceptives. Adams and other Democrats are also hoping to write federal protections of marriage equality too, fearing a similar rollback on rights by the conservative-dominated U.S. Supreme Court. Several bills addressing those issues have passed the U.S. House but aren’t likely to be taken up by the evenly split U.S. Senate.

Wednesday’s conversation ranged beyond November’s election. Asked about the difficult conversations around why abortion should be legal, Dr. Jones said she often thinks of the words of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The fight over abortion is really about a woman’s right to privacy and reproductive control, she said. 

“This is a difficult decision for anyone,” Jones said. “This conversation is one that has to be held because everyone deserves to have choices and everyone deserves to be heard. … It feels like women have been targeted to make our voices less heard and our decisions less able. No one deserves to be silenced.”

Brooke Adams said when she started escorting women into abortion clinics, she couldn’t believe the amount of abuse protesters hurled at them. She said that while North Carolina is better than its neighbors when it comes to abortion access, she pointed out a federal court judge recently put into effect a 20-week abortion ban because of the Dobbs decision.

Also,North Carolina requires women wait 72 hours after an initial consultation to receive an abortion, one of the longest waiting periods in the country. 

“These restrictions on abortion access are blows to our most fundamental freedoms,” Brooke Adams said. 

Meanwhile, the women said that the heightened politicization of the issue means that people who have received abortions should share their stories whenever possible. Johnson said about one in four women have received an abortion in their lifetime in the U.S.   

“This is care that is stigmatized, unlike most care,” she said. “The fear is real.”