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Thursday, May 30, 2024

‘Feels like a punch in the stomach’: Protesters, leaders react to overturning of Roe v. Wade

Protestors at Wilmington’s rally against the overturning of Roe v Wade Friday night. (Port City Daily/Brenna Flanagan).

WILMINGTON — “No uterus, no opinion!” protesters chanted at City Hall in downtown Wilmington early  Friday evening. 

Over 100 people gathered at the corner of 3rd and Princess streets to speak out against the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, in effect allowing states to determine how to handle abortion rights. 

Driving cars honked in solidarity. Police officers watched from the perimeter and atop the adjacent rooftop of the courthouse. Kids climbed the trees to get a better view.  Women deeply hugged one another as speakers and advocates discussed the ramifications of what comes next.  

Demonstrators were armed with signs, t-shirts, outrage and anguish.

“I’m very emotional,” protester Taylor Mclean said. “I feel every woman and man, whoever is in the crowd today, I feel all of their feelings. People’s voices are not being heard across America. I feel like an object that can just be disregarded after having a kid.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday in a 6-3 vote to overturn the 1973 decision that granted women’s constitutional right to an abortion under the 14th amendment. It was challenged  in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a 2018 Mississippi case that banned abortions after 15 weeks. State leaders accused the case of intentional unconstitutionality in an effort to bring the opportunity to overturn Roe to the Court. 

“The decision feels like a punch in the stomach, and every woman with whom I have spoken has expressed sheer anger,” said Lynn Shoemaker, president and founder of Women Organizing for Wilmington, a progressive activist group that organized the protest. “I’m stunned, numb, that a 50-year-old fundamental protection, a constitutional right, has essentially been revoked.”

The Dobbs v. Jackson ruling is a culmination of Republican efforts to overturn Roe and will be marked as a victory of former President Donald Trump’s presidency. He vowed to name anti-abortion justices; three of his picks — Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett — were part of the majority ruling. 

North Carolina senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis voted to confirm all three justices. 

Burr, who is not running for reelection next year, has not issued a statement as of press. Tillis, who was reelected in 2020, said:

“This ruling is historic and monumental and affirms my belief that all life is sacred. I will continue to advocate for common sense measures that the broad majority of Americans support, like protecting life at crucial points of development and prohibiting horrendous procedures like partial-birth and pain-capable abortions.” 

North Carolinians will still be able to get an abortion — at least in the near future. While it is not codified by state law, abortions are legal up until viability around 25 weeks, unless the pregnancy threatens the health or life of the mother. North Carolina imposes other restrictions, including mandatory counseling and ultrasounds, medication via telemedicine, and parental consent for minors.

Many of the state’s Republican leaders have praised the ruling; however, Governor Roy Cooper, crucial to standing in the way of anti-abortion efforts, said he will continue to support women’s reproductive choices.

“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,” Cooper said in a statement Friday. “I will continue to trust women to make their own decisions as we fight to keep politicians out of the doctor’s exam room.”

Due to Cooper’s veto power and Republicans’ probable inability to override it, any legislation to restrict abortion rights have low chances. A “heartbeat bill” in the state House — sponsored by District 19’s Rep. Charles Miller — proposes a ban on abortion once a fetus’ heartbeat can be detected — around six weeks. But no action has been taken on it for over a year. 

The tables could turn come fall’s midterm elections. 

Speaker of the House Tim Moore has already vowed to support anti-abortion legislation next year. 

“North Carolinians can expect pro-life protections to be a top-priority of the legislature when we return to our normal legislative session in January,” Moore said. “North Carolinians can rest assured that we are taking necessary steps to ensure that current restrictions on the books will be enforced.” 

On Friday afternoon, Moore and Senate Leader Phil Berger called on Attorney General Josh Stein to lift the 2019 injunction on a 20-week abortion ban. It is now enforceable due to Roe’s overruling.

If and until new legislation passes, North Carolina could see more patients traveling across the border for care. 

Due to a trigger law, which went into effect following Roe’s fall, abortions are now illegal in Kentucky and Tennessee is set to follow suit in 30 days. South Carolina and Georgia currently have six-week bans on the books, going into effect upon the lift on the states’ injunctions. 

Wilmington native Michael Warner, who was more sad than angry about the Roe decision, noted the decision hits close to home. He recalled a time before abortions were legal.

“My grandmother died in a back-alley abortion. She was an immigrant woman with too many children and no money,” Warner said. “The thinking was, she had to do it and of course she paid the consequences.”

Wilmington’s Planned Parenthood and other state providers could see an influx of out-of-state patients while also trying to support state populations. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 53% of North Carolina women live in counties with no abortion clinic. More abortion-seekers could strain resources and accessibility for reproductive healthcare. 

Research also shows that the number of state providers may be declining. There were 26 facilities providing abortion in North Carolina in 2017; 14 were clinics. These numbers represent a 13% decline from three years prior, when there were 37 abortion-providing facilities overall, of which 16 were clinics.

Lynn Shoemaker speaks at Friday night’s demonstration. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

According to Shoemaker, Women Organizing for Wilmington has been preparing for this circumstance for years. The organization has compiled a list of volunteers willing to drive women in and out of the state, provide overnight housing, and fund meal and gas expenses. 

She said it is now the responsibility of voters to elect people they want to see.

“The women in North Carolina, along with support of our allies, must fight harder and relentlessly to protect our great state from their [anti-abortion proponents] onerous and oppressive mandates,” Shoemaker said. 

According to the Pew Research Center, 61% of Americans support legal abortion access in all or most cases. In North Carolina, 46% of voters support upholding Roe, 35% think it should be overturned, and 18% reported unsure or no opinion. 

State Sen. Michael Lee, representing New Hanover County, is in the 35%. He released in a statement Friday: 

“Today’s Supreme Court decision was the correct one. Our Founders wisely decided that the proper place to determine fundamental issues of life and liberty is through the peoples’ elected representatives in state legislatures, not unelected judges. This ruling simply returns the power to make policy decisions about abortion back to the states.”

The Dobbs ruling has the potential to affect other precedents based on the same argument. 

The Supreme Court returned the decision to the states because judges said the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee the right to an abortion. The Roe v. Wade case was determined based on interpreting the 14th amendment, which asserts citizens’ right to privacy, as protecting a person’s ability to make a decision about their body. Rights interpreted to be protected by the Constitution, but are not explicitly stated, such as freedom of the press, are called unenumerated rights. 

Some justices, particularly Clarence Thomas, have argued the court should reexamine other cases based on Roe’s argument, called substantive due process, to provide a stricter interpretation of the Constitution. 

That means cases ruling on same-sex marriage, access to contraception and reproductive care and the right to choose your sexual partner could see overuling attempts in the future. 

That was the major warning for protesters congregating at Wilmington’s rally as well. 

“Nothing is sacred,” attendee Caroline Dlugy-Hegwer said. “This is the first step of rolling back many rights. Now the fight begins for my daughters and granddaughters.” 

Speakers urged attendees to get involved in local government in order to make New Hanover County a “safe place” for people seeking abortions and reproductive care. They said protesting was a good first step, a vital event to express people’s range of emotions, but the next one is fighting for policies and people that will represent their beliefs in government. 

Democratic Rep. Deb Butler of New Hanover County was also at Friday’s protest. Appalled by the Supreme Court decision and possible next moves that could be taken in state government, she said now it is vital to get young people to the polls and inspired to make a difference.

“Women are not truly free if a government controls their very bodies,” Butler said. “People should pay very close attention to this undermining of our personal freedoms because the next rights lost might be yours.”

Women gathered at the corner of 3rd and Princess streets to protest the overturning of Roe v. Wade. (Port City Daily/Brenna Flanagan)
A crowd gathers to listen to speakers at the Wilmington protest. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)
Signs made for the Wilmington protest. (Port City Daily/Brenna Flanagan)
Crowds gathered at the corner of 3rd and Princess streets Friday night upon the Roe vs. Wade overturning by the Supreme Court. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

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