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Episode Transcript: What the end of Roe v. Wade means for North Carolina

Jason deBruyn
This is Tested from WUNC, a look at how we're responding to the day's challenges in North Carolina and the South. I'm Jason deBuryn.

Last week, in a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court overturned Roe versus Wade. The decision upends a precedent in place for nearly 50 years and nullifies access to abortion as a constitutional right. It comes about two months after a legal opinion from the court previewed the law's fate. Now the legality of abortion is left to the states.

Claire Donnelly
The future of abortion policy in North Carolina is really in flux. We have a lot of people in play right now, we have the state legislature, we have the state attorney general, the governor, it's going to be really interesting to see how it all plays out.

deBruyn
Claire Donnelly is a health reporter for WFAE in Charlotte. I spoke with her more about what the elimination of Roe v Wade means for North Carolina.

deBruyn
So as I think we've all heard, or anybody that listens to this podcast likely knows, North Carolina does not have a trigger ban. So as with 26 other states that are already or likely to enact really strict laws, North Carolina is not included in those states. But Claire, talk a little bit about what North Carolina does have on the books, and what might change for us here in sort of the immediate future as it relates to acquiring legal abortions.

Donnelly
Right now, in North Carolina abortions are legal, there are some restrictions, a patient seeking an abortion has to receive an ultrasound and consult with a medical professional 72 hours beforehand. As for what could change, you know, that's super in flux. So it all basically comes down to five seats in the North Carolina State House. So if Democrats lose three House seats and two Senate seats, they would go back to a super minority, and Republicans would become a super majority, and could pass a much stricter ban than what we have or I guess, don't have right now.

deBruyn
And you've actually done a little bit more reporting, or at least on Twitter, you've talked about this a little bit more than I have. I think there's sort of the knee-jerk reaction was abortion is going to be on the ballot whenever the governor's race comes up, not this fall, but in two years, and you said exactly sort of as you were getting into just now., it's going to be on the ballot a lot sooner than two years from now. Talk a little bit more about exactly what could happen locally. My point being we know that the Democratic Governor Roy Cooper would almost certainly veto bills passed by the legislature that do not expand abortion access, or in fact limit abortion access. But exactly to your point that might not matter. Talk a little bit about that.

Donnelly
Right. Yeah. So you know, assuming that Democrats continue to vote in favor of abortion rights and Republicans continue to vote against abortion rights, if Republicans win a supermajority they could override, you know, any possible veto by Governor Roy Cooper, like you said, he is a Democrat. He has said I will veto any bill that further restricts abortion access in North Carolina. But I think Republicans are galvanized about this going into November. I talked with Jason Williams, who works with North Carolina's Faith and Freedom Coalition, which opposes abortion rights. And he was super adamant that , you know, pro life issues are on the ballot.

[AUDIO CLIP]
And for people that are pro life like like me, when we go to the ballot box, we have to elect pro life candidates who when they go to Raleigh will enact pro life policies.

Donnelly
I wanted to add something also, you know, you were asking what could change? We should also say, you know, this is super in flux. But Republican leaders in the legislature right now, on Friday, sent a letter to Attorney General Josh Stein saying we want you to enforce the 20-week abortion ban that North Carolina has had on the books but that was previously ruled unconstitutional because of Roe v. Wade. Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore said in that letter, you know, the legal underpinnings that the court used to rule that 20-week ban unconstitutional, are no longer standing because Roe v. Wade has been overturned with the Dobbs decision. So they gave him, they gave Josh Stein until Friday to respond to that letter. So North Carolina could have a 20-week abortion ban sometime in the very near future.

deBruyn
And I think one thing we probably do know for sure, and I think even Speaker Moore has talked about is that they're not planning anything for the short session. I mean, I think they already have enough to do. They've been clear on that. And I don't think anything is going to happen in this short session. But we'll see what happens after November, perhaps even in a lame duck session. And certainly, depending on how many seats Republicans win this fall, we might see something when those new members are seated next year. So anyways, that's the legal side. Let's turn a little bit to maybe the more practical side, as I said, there's, you know, 26 states that either have already by time people listen to this podcast, or are likely to soon pass more restrictive laws than that exist here in North Carolina. And I think you and I have both been speaking to OBGYNs who are expecting to see an influx of women from those other states, particularly ones that are sort of here, in somewhat proximity, I'll say drivable distance to North Carolina, see an influx of these patients. They're even preparing for, I know out west, some abortion providers who are already even hiring more staff, experimenting with something as simple as parking, to try to, you know, make sure that they can provide abortion care to people coming from other states. Maybe talk about one or two of the people that you've spoken with, and you know, what we might expect to see in terms of an increase of patients coming from outside of the state.

Donnelly
Yeah, so for sure, to your point, you know, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, you know, all of these places that are close to North Carolina, either already have, you know, trigger bans or stricter restrictions in place, the North Carolina does or could soon have that, Virginia is a little murkier, they have a Republican governor, who has said he would approve stricter abortion laws, we'll have to see kind of what happens there. So I talked with Calla Hales, she is the executive director of A Preferred Women's Health Center in Charlotte, which performs right now, at least 100 abortions per week. And her response was, you know, we're going to keep providing care for as many people as we can, for as long as we can.

[AUDIO CLIP]
That's my priority is being here to help the patients that need it. Those might be patients from other states now, there will definitely still be patients from North Carolina to that we are, quite frankly, not planning on going anywhere.

Donnelly
I think the Dobbs decision was not a surprise to a lot of abortion providers. You know, we sort of knew based on this draft opinion, that was leaked that this was likely to happen. So yeah, they're definitely preparing for an influx. One estimate I saw and I'm not exactly sure where this number came from was that, you know, up to 70,000 people could be seeking care in North Carolina, could be seeking abortions. We'll kind of have to see how that plays out. You know, Calla Hales, who had mentioned earlier, was saying, you know, that number doesn't necessarily account for, you know, do people have the ability to travel, not everybody has the money, the time, the resources, right, getting an abortion can involve taking time off of work, having transportation, to travel to another state, maybe having a place to stay when you're in a different state. So what have you been hearing in your reporting?

deBruyn
Yeah, I mean, I saw one estimate that the demand for abortion just in North Carolina will increase something like 1,000%. Now, I'm not entirely sure that's, you know, about that estimate, that seems to be a little bit high to me. But look, I mean, if half the states in the nation, either completely or, you know, in some way restrict access, then states like North Carolina would be ones where you would see an influx of patients. And I think it's worth maybe pointing out that you know, even if you live inside North Carolina, chances are pretty good that you have to travel to seek an abortion. There's only I think nine counties in North Carolina even have an abortion provider. And so if you live sort of along that I-95 corridor, or if you live in some of the rural parts, particularly out west I mean, you're traveling potentially an hour or more, even if you live inside North Carolina, right? So you know, traveling to seek an abortion is certainly not something that applies only to to people from out of state, it certainly applies to people here within the state as well.

Donnelly
You know, the the people who need or who are seeking abortions within North Carolina like that existing patient volume isn't going to go away. So then, right, it's going to be in addition to people here. And it's also, you know, I think particularly, you know, here in the Charlotte area, because we are right on the border with South Carolina and South Carolina is poised, you know, at a minimum to have a six week abortion ban. You know, people who live in South Carolina, already parts of South Carolina are considered part of the Charlotte metro area. So there could be a big bump down here too.

A lot of people that I've been talking to have been saying, you know, in states that are, you know, changing their abortion restrictions, maybe to be more strict, that we know the data shows that that fewer people do not get abortions when it is harder to get an abortion, it's just that fewer people get safe abortions. That's what Molly Rivera with Planned Parenthood South Atlantic told me back when the draft opinion of this Supreme Court decision was released. And the other thing is, I know you all up in the Triangle had, you know, protests over the weekend as well. We had some in Charlotte. I talked to some folks at one on Friday. And one woman I talked to Ayanna Perry, she's a high school social studies teacher, made a really interesting point of, you know, she has counseled several of her students through having an abortion. So you know, they ended up pregnant, they didn't want to be pregnant. And she said, you know, the ability of, for them to be able to access an abortion just opened up a lot of opportunities for them that may have not been accessible to them, you know, had they carried the pregnancy to term.

[AUDIO CLIP]
And I just can't imagine that being taken away from them when abortion saved many of their lives, gave them opportunities, opened up doors for them to continue on, you know, gave them opportunities to not stay in poverty. And so it just broke my heart because it's like a door is being closed.

deBruyn
Let's zoom out a little bit and just talk big picture as we close up here today. What was some of your big picture takeaways or maybe one or two things you're looking for next, sort of as it applies to North Carolina or even just the United States?

Donnelly
Yeah, you know, I think North Carolina is a super interesting state in this moment. I mean, it's a super interesting state in all moments. But I think that just given the fact that right now, we don't have as strict of abortion regulations as in other states, but we potentially could. As we said earlier, there's a lot kind of hanging in the balance with November, with what the legislature will do, with what the governor will do, with what the attorney general will do. So I'm very curious to see how all of it plays out and I'm sure I'm not alone in that. It's a wild time. It's it's just very complicated and very intense.

deBruyn
Claire Donnelly is a health reporter for WFAE in Charlotte. That's it for this episode of Tested. Charlie Shelton-Ormond produced this episode, Dave DeWitt is our editor. I'm Jason deBruyn. Thanks for listening.