RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) — Monday marked 51 years since the passage of Roe v. Wade, the landmark US Supreme Court decision which protected abortion rights. It was marked by a series of events across the state, as abortion rights advocates took aim at the June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling, which overturned Roe v. Wade.
“We now have people imposing their morality on our nation’s laws. That’s a fundamental shift in the understanding in the freedom of religion guaranteed in our Constitution,” said Jennifer Copeland, Executive Director of North Carolina Council of Churches.
“How is it that women and girls’ bodies now become subject to the religious convictions of powerful men and their surrogates,” said Rev. Chalice Overy of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church.
Both were speakers at a gathering Monday in Bicentennial Plaza, featuring a coalition of interfaith leaders. It was located just across the street from the Legislative Building where last May, state lawmakers introduced and passed Senate Bill 20 within 48 hours.
“It is not only our right but our moral responsibility to always hold our elected officials accountable,” said Rev. Lisa Garcia-Simpson, Executive Director of Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry of North Carolina.
“Doctors are fleeing states where they can’t perform abortions, leaving women who want to have a baby with sparse medical care, and medical care deserts for all. We say to our legislators and our politicians – take your laws our of our doctor’s offices,” said Rabbi Lucy Dinner of Temple Beth Or.
Amongst the speakers was Melva Fager Okun, one of the founders of the Triangle Interfaith Reproductive Justice Coalition.
“I was in a situation myself where I was 19 years old, got pregnant with a man that I really wasn’t in a strong relationship with. Continuing a pregnancy, I was just starting in college, I was very new to sexual activity, (and) I just determined (abortion) was my only choice. And that was when it was illegal,” said Okun.
She was grateful for the passage of Roe v. Wade, hopeful it would help others avoid the burdens to access he faced as a teenager.
“I’m very fearful that given our new legal situation here in North Carolina, that women are going to suffer and some women are going to die because of this,” said Okun.
Okun explained she started sharing her story publicly following the Dobbs decision.
“For 50 years, we didn’t think we needed to talk about it. Well, now we absolutely have to. We have to talk about it. We have to change the law,” said Okun.
Senate Bill 20 bans most abortions in the state after 12 weeks, with exceptions for rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, or if a mother’s life is in danger.
“Abortion has become a hot-button political issue in a way that divides us and hurts women. We are here to say that we are for abortion as healthcare and it’s essential healthcare,” said Rep. Deborah Ross, who was part of a roundtable in Durham Monday morning featuring members of the state’s Democratic Congressional delegation, doctors, and abortion rights advocates.
“We do think it is decreasing abortions. It has helped prevent North Carolina from being the destination of abortion that North Carolina had been prior to the passage of Senate Bill 20 and what we would like to see is a continuation in the reduction of abortions,” said Tami Fitzgerald, Executive Director of the NC Values Coalition.
Fitzgerald described SB 20 as a first step, as she highlighted funding mechanisms in the measure.
“They sent money to pregnancy care centers. They sent money to pregnancy homes where women can live while they’re pregnant. They sent money to childcare programs,” said Fitzgerald.
The legislation includes $160 million towards several resources, including child care, paid paternal care for state employees and teachers, access to contraceptives, reforms for maternal and infant mortality, and finish line grants, which assist students complete community college.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, North Carolina is one of two states that currently have 12-week bans, while 14 states have near total bans, and two other states have six-week limitations.
“We’d like to see more pregnant women decide there are good support services out there for them that would help them choose life instead of abortion,” said Fitzgerald.
ABC11 has reached out to the NCGOP and Senate Bill 20’s primary sponsors for their perspective on the impact of the legislation, but have not heard back as of publication.