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What the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade means for WNC

Sylva Women's March Oct 2021_2_cropped.jpg
Lilly Knoepp
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Protesters marched for reproductive rights in Sylva in October 2021 after Texas enacted its restrictive abortion law.

The Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion today, reversing Roe v. Wade which guaranteed the right to an abortion for 50 years.

The six conservative justices came down on the majority of the opinion with the three liberal justices in opposition of the decision. It reads, “The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.”

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper reacted quickly to the Supreme Court's ruling to overturn the landmark abortion rights case Roe v. Wade. In a statement released this morning Cooper said:

“For 50 years, women have relied on their constitutional right to make their own medical decisions, but today that right has been tragically ripped away. That means it’s now up to the states to determine whether women get reproductive health care, and in North Carolina they still can. I will continue to trust women to make their own medical decisions as we fight to keep politicians out of the doctor’s exam room."

Today’s decision does not immediately make abortion illegal. Instead, it removes the constitutional protection for a woman's right to an abortion. That means the legality of abortion would fall to state governments. Abortion is currently legal in North Carolina, but there are some restrictions on the service in the state.

In 2010, Republicans in the state legislature passed the "Women's Right to Know Act" which requires people seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound and implemented a 24-hour waiting period. In 2015, former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed a law extending the waiting period to 72 hours.

Republicans have continued to try to pass more restrictions on abortion in the state, but those efforts have been stopped by vetoes from North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.

A 2016 NC bill banning abortion after 20-weeks was blocked by federal courts in 2019. (That decision was reaffirmed in 2021.)

Most recently, a bill restricting abortion access was vetoed by Governor Roy Cooper(D) in summer 2021. A 2016 NC bill banning abortion after 20-weeks was blocked by federal courts in 2019. (That decision was reaffirmed in 2021.)

Top Republicans have called the overturning of Roe a major victory and signal that they will take up abortion restrictions next year.

“While I remain unequivocally pro-life, the short budget adjustment session does not afford us sufficient time to take up the issue. However, North Carolinians can rest assured that we are taking the necessary steps to ensure that current restrictions on the books will be enforced,” said House Speaker Tim Moore in a statement.

Right now Republicans do not have a super-majority that could withstand a veto from the governor. But that could change after the November election.

North Carolina Medical Society maintains that an abortion is a personal health and medical decision to be made by a qualified doctor and patient.

Twenty-two states have laws on the books that restrict abortion access now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned. Twelve of those states have abortion bans that are now triggered including Tennessee. In 16 states and the District of Columbia statute guaranteeing the right to abortion.

While abortion is legal in North Carolina, it is already hard to access abortion care.

Molly Rivera, communications director for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic told BPR that the ripple effect of neighboring states banning abortion will have a negative impact on Western North Carolina.

“We only have 14 clinics that provide abortion care and because of many of the restrictions that we already have on the books, patients already face many restrictions to access this healthcare. “

Rivera says that Tennessee residents were already accessing abortion in Asheville –the only clinic in the region.

“Now that this decision is out and state politicians have the green light to ban abortion as they see fit all we have to do is look to Texas and what happened there last year," said Rivera.

Here’s where North Carolina's neighbors stand on abortion 

South Carolina 

South Carolina passed a bill banning abortions after 6 weeks in February 2021 which was blocked by federal courts. If the federal law is overturned, then abortion could be banned in South Carolina. Right now, abortions cannot be performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless there are serious health concerns.

Tennessee 

Tennessee’s state constitution was changed in 2014 to explicitly not secure the right to an abortion. The state also has a law that would ban abortion when Roe is overturned. The state general attorney has the power to begin to enact that law.

Most recently on New Year’s Eve 2022, a Knoxville Planned Parenthood was burned down in a confirmed arson case. In 2021, on the 48th anniversary of Roe V. Wade, a gunman fired a shotgun through the front doors of the same Knoxville location.

Georgia 

The legislature passed what supporters call a “heartbeat” ban in 2019. A lawsuit challenging the bill is on hold in appeals court waiting for the Supreme Court decision. Abortion is banned after 20 weeks with some exceptions.

Virginia 

Abortion is allowed up to the third trimester. Public funding is limited to rape, incest or health risks.

Lilly Knoepp serves as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina. She is a native of Franklin, NC who 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.