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One local reproductive rights group says it will continue to help provide abortion access across WNC

Mountain Area Abortion Doula collective provides abortion resources such as these kits for aftercare.
Maren Hurley
Mountain Area Abortion Doula collective provides abortion resources such as these kits for aftercare.

Following the Supreme Court decision to overturn the federal right to abortion, reproductive rights advocates say there will be a collapse of abortion access in the region. BPR spoke with one Buncombe County advocate:

Maren Hurley says that she has felt strongly about abortion access since middle school when a friend first needed to access care.

“I do say that I am pro-abortion because I think that anytime that someone is like choosing abortion of their own free will, that is like a choice that they're making, to support their own freedom,” said Hurley.

Hurley grew up in Asheville and is one of the co-founders of Mountain Area Abortion Doula Collective. Doulas provide information and emotional support during major life transitions. They are most well-known for birth work but there are also death doulas or in this case, abortion doulas.

“I feel like really proud to be from Appalachia and be providing care to the people here,” said Hurley.

In North Carolina, only 8 out of 100 counties have access to abortion providers. In Western North Carolina, Buncombe County is the only one with a clinic that provides abortions. There are about 10 pregnancy crisis centers in the region that offer pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and counseling. Many of the centers are faith-based and do not support abortion.

“Asheville is really the only clinic out there. The next closest one is in Charlotte, which is like a two hour drive,” said Hurley.

BPR spoke to Hurley before the Supreme Court’s decision.

“Everyone is sort of waiting for this decision to come down from the Supreme Court. How does that feel to you as someone who works in this space?”

“I mean, it feels terrible. I think the hard thing about this moment is that we have been anticipating it for a long time. but that doesn't make it any less stressful or devastating,” said Hurley.

Abortion is still legal in North Carolina and at least 27 other states.

Most recently, a North Carolina bill restricting abortion access was vetoed by Governor Roy Cooper(D) in summer 2021. The legislature isn't currently planning an abortion bill this session.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision abortion bans were triggered in twelve states including Tennessee. In 16 states and the District of Columbia statute guaranteeing the right to abortion.

Restricting abortion access in neighboring states has a big impact here in Western North Carolina.

“The ripple effect essentially like compounds all of the existing problems in the other states,” said Hurley. “We're about to see like a collapse that was like abortion access in most of the states that border North Carolina.”

Hurley says there is already a strain on abortion access. Long wait times and travel can impact whether or not someone can receive care.

“If people have to travel farther, they need more tangible support in terms of rides, in terms of funding, in terms of work coverage, in terms of childcare, in terms of navigating around, um, potentially abusive like partner or family dynamics,” said Hurley.

That’s where Hurley’s collective comes in. The group helps connect people who call with doctor’s appointments, car rides, funds, emotional support and more. The collective, which started in 2020, has worked with a few hundred people.

For Hurley, the future looks uncertain but she wants to continue to support abortion access.

“I am more interested in like spending my time and energy trying to support folks who are trying to access abortion instead of trying to convince folks who are anti-abortion. I think one thing that's important to say is that abortion is safe. It's stigma and lack of access that makes abortion unsafe,” said Hurley.

In a May 2022 Pew Research poll, 61 percent of U.S. adults said abortion should be legal all or most of the time, while 37 percent said it should be illegal all or most of the time.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.