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North Carolina advocates reflect on abortion access after Ohio referendum

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Planned Parenthood in Chapel Hill provides reproductive health services to the Triangle. Senate Bill 20, a 12-week abortion ban, is now law in North Carolina, although the majority of voters believe people should have access to the health care they need without government interference.

On Nov. 7, Ohio voters approved a constitutional amendment that enshrines abortion rights in the state constitution.

Early this year, the N.C. General Assembly — led by a Republican supermajority — passed Senate Bill 20, a 12-week abortion ban that was temporarily blocked by a federal judge, but is now law.

The Ohio amendment was a citizen-led ballot referendum. But, in North Carolina, constitutional amendments must be initiated by a supermajority of the General Assembly and then voted on by the state's voters — citizen-led ballot initiatives are not allowed in North Carolina.

Tara Romano, the executive director of Pro-Choice North Carolina, said Ohio's recent vote continues the trend of voters being in favor of abortion access, regardless of party affiliation. She said North Carolina is not uniquely more anti-abortion than Ohio and some Ohio voters that likely identify as Republican or independent voted to protect abortion access.

Both North Carolina and Ohio have state legislatures with Republican supermajorities, and both states have recently dealt with gerrymandered maps that favor Republicans.

Marques Thompson, the organizing director at Democracy North Carolina, said the N.C. General Assembly does not fully represent the voting base and is a result of gerrymandered maps.

In the 2022 U.S. Senate elections, Sen. Ted Budd (R-NC) won with 50.5 percent of the vote, while his Democratic opponent Cheri Beasley lost with 47.27 percent.

“Our General Assembly districts are heavily gerrymandered, and, as a result, one party has a supermajority in the General Assembly and can enact pretty much any policies that they want,” Becky Harper, a member of Common Cause North Carolina and the named plaintiff in Harper v. Hall, said

Harper v. Hall was a series of cases in the N.C. Supreme Court that was ultimately overturned and allowed the state legislature to have full power over redistricting. The latest decision in Harper v. Hall said state courts could not overrule the legislature on map-drawing.

Harper said the fundamental problem with gerrymandering is that voters do not have the choice to vote for candidates who reflect their views. She also said there is a disconnect between the general public opinion about issues like abortion and the policy that is enacted.

Romano said it is important for voters' voices to be reflected in the General Assembly when it comes to abortion.

She said, regardless of personal opinions about abortion, a majority of voters in North Carolina believe people should have access to the health care they need without government interference.

Romano said, S.B. 20 put medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion, including a 12-week ban and new requirements for abortion consultations. She said S.B. 20 mandates a patient’s first consultation must to be done in person and requires 72 hours between the consultation and the actual procedure.

She said this rule can be a barrier for people who live far away from an abortion clinic, forcing them to either spend a few days in the area or make two trips to get the procedure.

Romano said the protests following the passage of S.B. 20 show how strongly people in North Carolina opposed these new measures. 

Since the U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, there have been seven statewide referendums across the country where voters have been able to directly vote on abortion access.

“What's happened when abortion was actually put on the ballot as a single issue, in traditionally conservative states, like Ohio and Kansas, is that the voters did not, in fact, behave as they were expected to by the leaders of the Republican Party,” Harper said.

Kansas Republicans also hold a supermajority in the state legislature.

Thompson said what happened in Ohio should teach a lesson to N.C. General Assembly — he said Ohio voters were not in favor of abortion bans and that lawmakers should understand North Carolina citizens aren’t in favor of them, either.

“We would not want abortion restricted here, either, and people will vote on that issue, so I hope that serves as a bit of a warning to our leaders,” he said.

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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