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Students protest NC abortion bill in the Pit on Thursday

Chants of “not the church and not the state, women must decide their fate” reverberated across the Pit.

It signaled the beginning of the “Protect Access, Defend Women’s Health” rally that was held Thursday by UNC students.

The rally, sponsored by Students United for Reproductive Justice, drew about 50 attendees to protest against an abortion bill going through the N.C. General Assembly. House Bill 465 would prevent the medical schools at UNC-CH and ECU from teaching medical students how to perform abortions, as well as banning abortions from being performed at the schools’ respective facilities.

The bill would also extend the waiting period before a woman can obtain an abortion from 24 hours to 72 hours and require any physician performing abortions to be licensed as an OB-GYN.

Surrounded by signs with slogans such as “stop H.B 465, politicians do not equal doctors,” Cara Schumann, UNC sophomore and co-president of SURJ, opened the protest with a call to action.

“We must fight against continued attacks against a woman’s ability to make a private medical decision,” Schumann said.

Many medical professionals spoke out at the event as well. Dr. Matthew Zerden, a family planning fellow at UNC Hospitals, said the opportunities and teaching he received in medical school are being threatened.

“It’s preposterous for the legislature to impose restrictions on what medical schools can and can’t teach,” Schumann added.

UNC medical student Michelle Brown said she has assisted with an abortion procedure during her education. 

“It’s sad how a woman’s decision about her health care is being marred,” she said.

Chavi Koneru, the policy director at NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, said the 72-hour waiting period was specifically concerning.

“Women in rural areas of North Carolina who need to travel to get an abortion are now being forced to wait, and maybe they can’t come back,” she said.

Dr. Anne Mellinger-Birdsong, a pediatrician and epidemiologist from Atlanta, spoke at the rally about her decision to have two abortions. She said this choice is not up to the legislature..

“No one can judge the decision my husband and I made — least of all politicians who know nothing of the heartbreaking decision I made,” Mellinger-Birdsong said.

Schumann said the bill was a grievous attack on a woman’s right to medical access.

“Women have a right to the best care possible when and where they need it,” she said. “Politicians that push policies like these usually aren’t women; they don’t walk in our shoes.”

The rally ended with a rousing round of applause and more chants: “1, 2, 3, 4, abortion is worth fighting for — 5, 6, 7, 8, women’s rights are what’s at stake!”

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