Dec 2, 2021 - News

N.C. on edge as Roe v. Wade hangs in the balance

Distance to abortion clinic by county

Data: Myers Abortion Facility Database on OSF; Map: Thomas Oide and Sara Wise/Axios

While the U.S. Supreme Court seemed primed to roll back abortion rights Wednesday, Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Cheri Beasley visited Charlotte’s Marshall Park and talked about expanding access.

  • “Women’s lives should not be at risk because they cannot access the care that they need,” Beasley, the former N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice, said while surrounded by activists. “Here in North Carolina, just nine counties have abortion clinics.”

Driving the news: The Supreme Court heard arguments in a challenge to a Mississippi law that bans nearly all abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy.

  • The law directly challenges the framework of Roe v. Wade, and justices could let states ban the procedure altogether.

Why it matters: North Carolina would quickly become one of the battlegrounds for reproductive rights in America.

  • Axios put together the map (interactive here) showing how far people would have to drive to the nearest abortion clinic if laws around access are left up to the states.
  • 12 states will immediately restrict the procedure, Axios’ Oriana Gonzalez reports, while many others are highly likely to follow suit. A Center for Reproductive Rights report says that North Carolina is considered highly likely to do the same, given the makeup of the conservative legislature.
  • If that happens, the closest clinic would likely be in Roanoke, Virginia, about 200 miles north of Charlotte.

Yes, but: Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is for abortion rights. This summer he vetoed HB 453, which would’ve banned abortions based on a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome.

Point being, it would be a fierce political battle in state politics. And that means it will likely loom large in the upcoming Senate election.

  • Beasley is running against Charlotte’s Jeff Jackson, who is also for abortion rights, in the primary.
  • At least two of the front-runners in the Republican primary — Ted Budd and Mark Walker — have championed bills that take aim abortion rights. The other, Pat McCrory, campaigned in 2012 saying he would not pass restrictions on abortion rights, but he signed at least two bills to the contrary during his term.
U.S. Senate candidate Cheri Beasley's rally for reproductive freedom in Marshall Park. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios
U.S. Senate candidate Cheri Beasley’s rally for reproductive freedom in Marshall Park. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

Beasley’s supporters, including Charlotte pastor Ray McKinnon, said that she’s uniquely qualified to discuss this issue as a Black woman.

  • A PBS Frontline special in 2017 noted that although Black women make up 13% of the total population, they account for about 28% of reported abortions annually.
  • “To not have a single Black woman (in the U.S. Senate) when Black women are themselves at the receiving end of the injustices of this society, including abortion, it would be a travesty for us to let that happen,” McKinnon said.

The other side: Jackson, Beasley’s top competitor in the Democratic primary, has been consistent on the matter, too.

The big picture: Charlotte has been ground zero in the debate over abortion over the past decade. For 40 consecutive Saturdays each year, anti-abortion activists from organizations like Love Life don light blue shirts and hold prayer walks — or protests — outside of A Preferred Women’s Health Center.

The clinic, the busiest in North Carolina, has its own volunteers known as defenders who hang tarps around the property and offer umbrella cover for families.

  • The situation gets dicey: Protesters including local evangelical pastor Flip Benham, who’s devoted his life to ending abortion, yell things like: “Stop, Mom, in the name of God.”
  • Love Life purchased the property next to the clinic a few years ago and cleared some of it to hold concerts to close their Saturday prayer walks.
Love Life rally at Preferred Women's Health center 2018
Love Life event outside of A Preferred Women’s Health Center in 2018. Photo: Michael Graff/Axios

Of note: The city of Charlotte in 2019 passed a noise ordinance to limit the use of loudspeakers outside the clinic.

  • The surge in activity was the subject of the Rewire short film “Care in Chaos,” which won Best Documentary in the 2017 Nevada International Film Festival.

The bottom line: The Supreme Court is scheduled to release a decision this summer. If Roe is overturned, abortion will be the No. 1 issue in the 2022 U.S. Senate election — and further out, for sure in the 2024 gubernatorial race.


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