Lawmakers Should Take a Walk in Her Shoes

Image_of_advocateBy Chavi Koneru, Policy Director, NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina

On June 5th, with the stroke of a pen, Governor Pat McCrory restricted the rights of North Carolina women by signing a bill imposing a 72-hour mandatory delay on abortions.

The Governor’s act was particularly egregious because, during his 2012 campaign, he had specifically promised not to sign any additional restrictions on abortion. NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, along with other advocates, delivered more than 16,000 petitions to the Governor urging him to remember his promise — but he did not.

When the bill proposing the mandatory delay was first introduced on April 1st, it seemed like a cruel April Fool’s joke. Unfortunately, in the weeks that followed, it became clear that many in the NC Legislature believe, as Representative Verla Insko put it, that “[t]he state knows best. [This bill] promotes the most disparaging stereotype about women, that they are irrationally emotional and can’t make important decisions.”

During legislative hearings, every single piece of testimony given in favor of the bill painted women seeking abortions as helpless and confused children who had become pregnant by accident and then made snap decisions in moments of crisis that they live every day to regret.

The reality is quite different.

Sixty-one percent of women who receive abortion care already have one or more children. Doctors report that women who come in wanting an abortion have thought through their options; they are not making snap decisions. Doctors say that if they sense any hesitation, they provide women with more information, including an ultrasound as needed, and suggest they take more time to decide. Without a mandatory delay, doctors still follow their ethical responsibilities and patients are still able to wait as long as they want before getting an abortion.

Delaying time-sensitive abortion care has no medical or health benefits whatsoever. The sole purpose of a mandatory waiting period is to shame a woman into not getting an abortion. And while mandatory delays don't actually do anything to change a woman’s decision, they do make some feel guilty and embarrassed. In North Carolina, not even victims of rape or incest are exempt from this shaming.

Aside from the damage to a woman’s emotional well-being, mandatory delays have serious economic consequences. A study conducted in Texas showed that, on average, women travel 42 miles to visit their nearest clinic and some travel up to 400 miles. There’s the cost of having to make that trip twice, plus taking time off work twice, and paying for child care twice. Women who can’t afford to make the second trip and are thus unable to get an abortion are three times more likely to fall into poverty. Not surprisingly, the new mandatory delay has a disproportionate impact on low-income women, women of color, immigrant women, and young women.

The unequal burden of costs created by North Carolina’s existing 24-hour waiting period will be even greater now, under the new mandatory delay that is three times longer.

Consider the case of a woman in an abusive relationship who has made the decision to get an abortion and get out of that relationship. Forcing this woman to wait three days, or even three hours after asking for an abortion, means asking her to live three more days in fear that her partner will find out, and with a potentially dangerous or deadly outcome if he does.

These are the actual consequences of the 72-hour mandatory delay.

For some lawmakers, it’s easy to support a restrictive bill from afar and justify it as “protecting women’s health.” They should walk a day in a woman’s shoes — a woman dealing with economic and social pressures — a woman making a hard choice — a woman who is now being emotionally attacked and economically punished just because she made a decision that was right for her and her family. Faced with this grim reality themselves, my guess is not one legislator would have supported the 72-hour mandatory delay, which is now law for all North Carolina women.

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