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North Carolina Law Is Another Devastating Blow for Abortion Access in the South

“SB 20 will effectively close down many of our clinics,” says an abortion support worker.

Abortion rights demonstrators gather to protest against the Supreme Court's decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health case on June 24, 2022, in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Chrysanthemum, who is using a pseudonym because abortion support work is increasingly dangerous, jokes that she came on board as a Carolina Abortion Fund (CAF) staff member “just in time.” It was 2021, less than a year before the Dobbs decision and around the time that funds nationwide were gearing up for their states to potentially pass legislation similar to Texas’ Senate Bill 8. In part, the 2021 law relies on private citizens filing civil lawsuits against anyone who “aids or abets” prohibited abortions.

CAF, formed in 2011, operates a confidential, toll-free helpline and provides financial, practical, and emotional support to North and South Carolinians trying to access abortion care. The work is now more challenging, thanks to North Carolina’s Senate Bill 20. The anti-abortion law, which went into effect July 1, bans medication abortion after 10 weeks and procedural abortion after 12 weeks. SB 20 also comes with a host of new restrictions, including an additional in-person appointment for patients that is required at least 72 hours before they can access care.

In a recent call with Prism, Chrysanthemum described the “breakneck speed of legislative hurdles, challenges, and changes” that CAF has spent the last year navigating. Here she is, in her own words:

I remember when we were waiting to see how SB 8 would turn out, I’d wake up full of anxiety. Whether I was at CAF or not, we were witnessing decades of rights get rolled back right in front of our eyes. Inside of abortion support work, that was already so normalized. The movement was anticipating this from the former administration — all of the signs were pointing to this, and all of the bills were building toward this. As someone who was just coming into this work, having the atmosphere be so normalized and having to disseminate such horrible news in a way that could still feel hopeful was shocking. It was an adjustment — and it just never stopped coming. By that, I mean the anti-abortion legislation, the stigma, the rollbacks, and restrictions.

But none of this started with abortion, and it won’t end with abortion. As we know from the reproductive justice movement, it was never going to stop at reproductive health legislation. They are stacking different legislation around different facets of our lives, with a focus on marginalized people. I’m not being hyperbolic. In the last two years, we’ve seen more attacks and more rights rolled back than we have in generations.

Despite the Supreme Court’s history, the Dobbs decision was the first time many people realized the court wasn’t impartial. I think it really ripped the veil off in a lot of ways. It’s going to have a series of booms on American people as they continue to pay more and more attention to the cost of our political system. But this is the system working; it just takes longer for some people to see the schemes and scams of the state because of the privileges they have or because of how information is withheld from them.

The tiny little wins we do get make me feel genuinely hopeful and confident that we will regain abortion rights. As of right now, South Carolina remains the state with the most abortion access in the South. [The House Republicans] have a supermajority, and they still can’t pass the ban they want. That tells me that we can overcome and that a change is going to come. I believe that.

The pace has been really hard to keep up with, and things are going to keep changing. SB 20 will effectively close down many of our clinics. It’s a very purposeful bill, yet nothing inside the bill reflects anything that constituents wanted. The rules that were made up — about “qualified” personnel and in-person counseling — didn’t come from people who wanted those things. It came from people who don’t want abortion in our state. This was not the will of the people, and it serves the state when we are distracted. It serves the state that you are worried about your next check so that when you need an abortion, you’re in absolute confusion about what just happened, what the law is, and how it applies to you. If you don’t know where to turn for resources to access abortion, and by the time you figure out how pregnant you are, how to pay for your abortion, and what the law is in your state, you’re out of time.

This is why education is such a big part of the work that we do. We work in very different environments. Sometimes it’s very casual, and we’re sharing education at bars. Sometimes it’s much more formal, and it’s on a panel at a college. But we take every opportunity we can to just talk about abortion and create a space for people to ask questions about abortion, about abortion laws, and about resources for accessing abortion—some of which have nothing to do with CAF. It’s just information about resources that people should know are legal and available to them. Because there is so much misinformation and stigma around abortion, some of our most powerful opportunities are just sitting in a room with people and talking about abortion.

In the coming weeks, we expect to see people more burdened in North Carolina [because of SB 20]. We know the clinic wait times are coming. Funding abortions is going to come with a lot of heavy hearts because we’re going to have to have hard conversations with people about what is and isn’t possible anymore. But still, our primary function is going to be what it’s always been: funding abortions, whipping out the wallet, and helping people get the care they need. That’s our power in times like these. That’s never going to change unless they shut us down.

People who do this work assess threat and risk differently. I’m Black in the South. I’m a mom, and I’m poor. Any threat modeling I do as an abortion advocate is on top of the regular threat modeling I do each day. I think about which pictures I can post. Can I do this area of movement work publicly? Should I put my name on this thing? What isn’t safe to do when we are facing legislation changes? I don’t know how long I’ll be able to have a voice in this work, so I weigh what I do carefully. I don’t usually put my picture in the media, but I want to while I still can this time.

I’m cocky real bad, so I know we will regain our right to abortion. Without or without legislation, we have always had abortion, and we will always have abortion. Abortion has always belonged to the people. It is information that is ancestral to us; it belongs to us. Whether you consider abortion health care or community work, it is not going anywhere. It’s ours to keep. We will always provide access — no matter what creative restrictions come up. We will find creative gap fillers and creative in-betweens and creative rainy day abortion funds and mutual aid funds, and we will transfer funds. We will always evolve with the times. They cannot beat us in our own house.

Prism is an independent and nonprofit newsroom led by journalists of color. We report from the ground up and at the intersections of injustice.

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