Analysis Abortion

Can a Female Governor Hold Back an Anti-Choice Tide in North Carolina?

Cynthia Greenlee

Just hours before a looming midnight deadline on Monday, North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed a state bill mandating an abortion waiting period and pre-abortion counseling. But the fight is not over yet.

Just hours before a looming midnight deadline on Monday, North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed a state bill mandating an abortion waiting period and pre-abortion counseling. But the fight is not over yet.

In vetoing House Bill 854 (given the Orwellian name of the “Women’s Right to Know” bill), Governor Perdue squashed a piece of legislation that would have required a 24-hour waiting period before a woman could obtain an abortion.

While waiting periods have become increasingly commonplace throughout the nation, HB 854 would also make patients undergo counseling by a health-care provider via phone or in person, see an ultrasound before the procedure (though the bill provided that patients could avert their eyes), and listen to a narrative account of the ultrasound image.

The counseling would also include information about adoption; the financial responsibilities of fathers to support their children; and health care or social services benefits that might be available to cover pregnancy or parenting assistance. It also would share unspecified information about the medical risks of abortion — another condition that raised the hackles of reproductive health advocates because abortion is widely considered by the World Health Organization and medical associations  a safe and simple medical procedure when performed by a trained clinician.

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The veto is a skin-of-the-teeth and, perhaps, temporary victory for those advocates, who have been battling an onslaught of state bills designed to chip away at funding for reproductive health care, including but not limited to abortion care.

Buoyed by a new Tea Party-invigorated Republican majority in the state General Assembly, this year North Carolina lawmakers introduced a bevy of bills to limit access to abortion and, ultimately, redefine definitions of life.

Other proposed but unsuccessful laws would have limited abortion coverage in government insurance plans for teachers  and other state or local employees ; used fees generated from “Choose Life” license plates to fund crisis pregnancy centers, which avoid discussion of abortion as a viable option to deal with an unwanted pregnancy; and subjected abortion-providing facilities to multiple visits from regulators.

In addition, a successful budget provision stripped Planned Parenthood of state funding. That budget provision was also vetoed by Perdue, but it was overridden and will stand, unless it is struck down in a legal challenge. In North Carolina, state representatives and senators can override a governor’s veto if they marshal a three-fifths majority in support of the bill.  

Dr. Takey Crist, who owns the obstetrics-gynecology Crist Center for Women in Jacksonville, N.C., said that he “didn’t have any doubt that Perdue would veto [HB 854], but now we’ve just got to see if they will override this one, too.

“This is about men trying to control women’s lives. What would happen if a man wanted Viagra or Cialis and we tried to make them wait for it? You can write these restrictions, you can make them law. But I’m telling you after 40 years of doing this, if a woman wants an abortion, she will find a way to get one.”

Crist is a longtime physician whose clinic opened in 1973, immediately after the legalization of abortion, and says that the political climate regarding abortion is worse now than it was after Roe v. Wade. He does not think it’s an exaggeration to say that, with the spate of anti-abortion bills in a more conservative state General Assembly, North Carolina is backsliding to the 1960s, when he regularly saw four to five women with complications from unsafe abortions every weekend in the Charleston, S.C., hospital where he was a resident.

“Then, we had the clinic demonstrations, and that stopped because of the rule that protesters can’t be on the property. I would tell the staff that protesters wouldn’t be here long. Then, it got worse with the deaths of [physicians] Barnett Slepian and George Tiller,” both murdered by anti-abortion individuals. “And now what I’ve seen in the last several years is the fanaticism of the Tea Party,” he said. “What they don’t understand is that when you kill funding for Planned Parenthood, what you’re killing is the ability to save women’s lives, women who can’t get a Pap smear that might detect cancer, and you’re killing the ability to stop sexually-transmitted diseases. You’re using more taxpayer money for unwanted pregnancies and Medicaid.”

Paige Johnson, vice president of policy for Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina (which, along with Planned Parenthood Health Systems, operates a total of nine clinics statewide), agreed. She said that lawmakers’ strange tunnel vision — where abortion is the only thing they see and Planned Parenthood is among the right’s favorite punching bags — is a blow to women’s health and wellbeing. Six out of 10 women who visit Planned Parenthood’s North Carolina facilities will not see another health-care provider, which means that those Planned Parenthoods are providing primary care for many women, in the form of low-cost physicals and affordable birth control. Not all of the Planned Parenthood clinics offer abortion services, either.

She also emphasized that HB 854 could put abortion providers in danger. 

She said HB “is not just about women. You’ve got women calling to get counseling on the phone, there’s no confirmed pregnancy. Any woman who calls and says she’s pregnant, she gets the doctor’s name,” a requirement that could expose abortion providers to more targeted harassment.

HB 854 bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Patricia McElraft, a three-term Republican representing Jones and Carteret counties in North Carolina’s more rural east. Notably, in this legislative session, she was also the primary sponsor of a bill to create a board to provide low-income people spay and neutering services for their pets.

But she recently made headlines when she claimed that her niece went to a Planned Parenthood that was a dark house where staff refused to let the woman see the pre-abortion ultrasound and encouraged to her have an abortion due to her drug use.  After being confronted by Planned Parenthood’s Johnson, who approached McElraft immediately after the comments and asked where the alleged encounter took place, and her House colleague, Democratic Rep. Alma Adams, McElraft later clarified that the clinic was not in North Carolina.      

Anne Fischer of Morganton, N.C., said that HB 854 is another obstacle to poor women accessing reproductive health care. She is the founding director of the Southern Mountain Women’s Health Alliance, the only abortion fund in the state according to the National Association of Abortion Funds (NNAF). Created in 1987 as an outgrowth of Fischer’s advocacy for battered women, the fund has assisted hundreds of low-income women by contributing an average grant of $100 toward the procedure. 

“Don’t they know that women have been waiting and waiting by the time they come to a clinic? It’s not only about money. They don’t have support, they don’t know what to do, or they’re in denial. And we do such a bad job [at preventing pregnancy and publicizing free or subsidized contraception at places such county health departments]. The bad thing is that it will force women to make two trips, and some women are on the edge between first and second trimester.”

North Carolina allows abortions to 20 weeks but once women  pass that mark and there’s no medical reason for the abortion, they’ve got to travel to other states like Georgia, where the upper limit for elective abortions is higher at 26 weeks. Assuming that they have transportation, free time, and money for gas or hotels to cross state lines, they are likely to find that second-trimester abortions cost more far than the about $450 dollars average fee for a first-trimester termination in most clinics.

At Fischer’s fund’s peak, it subsidized about 140 abortions per year. Now, however, it’s out of money, which means that women in North Carolina and surrounding states — the fund has assisted women to get abortions in Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia — have even less access to abortions than in previous years. 

It’s a grim overall picture: a policy environment that is hostile to women’s reproductive choices, the sole abortion fund drying up, the state government abortion fund for indigent women rendered inaccessible through a legislative sleight of hand since the mid-1990s, and dwindling numbers of abortion providers. A March 2011 report by researchers affiliated with the Guttmacher Institute reported a 16 percent decline in the number of abortion providers in North Carolina, down from 55 in 2000 to 31 in 2008.

Melissa Reed, Johnson’s counterpart with Planned Parenthood Health Systems, said that both Planned Parenthood organizations are organizing a phone bank targeting moderate Republican and conservative Democrats whose votes could determine whether an override of HB 854 passes; that all-important final vote could happen next month.

But in the meantime, Reed and her colleagues will be coping with a reduced budget.

“We will continue to offer services, “she said.  “But we may not be able to continue our adolescent parenting program in Wilmington, which has been operating for 15 years with state funding. We’ll still offer the full range of reproductive health services, but now women will have to pay out of pocket.”

Clearly, the lives of the women, men, and adolescents in need of health care don’t matter to the so-called pro-life contingent in North Carolina.

News Politics

NARAL President Tells Her Abortion Story at the Democratic National Convention

Ally Boguhn

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told the story of her abortion on the stage of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) Wednesday evening in Philadelphia.

“Texas women are tough. We approach challenges with clear eyes and full hearts. To succeed in life, all we need are the tools, the trust, and the chance to chart our own path,” Hogue told the crowd on the third night of the party’s convention. “I was fortunate enough to have these things when I found out I was pregnant years ago. I wanted a family, but it was the wrong time.”

“I made the decision that was best for me — to have an abortion — and to get compassionate care at a clinic in my own community,” she continued. “Now, years later, my husband and I are parents to two incredible children.”

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Hogue noted that her experience is similar to those of women nationwide.

“About one in three American women have abortions by the age of 45, and the majority are mothers just trying to take care of the families they already have,” she said. “You see, it’s not as simple as bad girls get abortions and good girls have families. We are the same women at different times in our lives — each making decisions that are the best for us.”

As reported by Yahoo News, “Asked if she was the first to have spoken at a Democratic National Convention about having had an abortion for reasons other than a medical crisis, Hogue replied, ‘As far as I know.'”

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards on Tuesday night was the first speaker at the DNC in Philadelphia to say the word “abortion” on stage, according to Vox’s Emily Crockett. 

Richards’ use of the word abortion was deliberate, and saying the word helps address the stigma that surrounds it, Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Vice President of Communication Mary Alice Carter said in an interview with ThinkProgress. 

“When we talk about reproductive health, we talk about the full range of reproductive health, and that includes access to abortion. So we’re very deliberate in saying we stand up for a woman’s right to access an abortion,” Carter said.

“There is so much stigma around abortion and so many people that sit in shame and don’t talk about their abortion, and so it’s very important to have the head of Planned Parenthood say ‘abortion,’ it’s very important for any woman who’s had an abortion to say ‘abortion,’ and it’s important for us to start sharing those stories and start bringing it out of the shadows and recognizing that it’s a normal experience,” she added.

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates. In April, Clinton called out moderators for failing to ask “about a woman’s right to make her own decisions about reproductive health care” over the course of eight debates—though she did not use the term abortion in her condemnation.

Analysis Economic Justice

New Pennsylvania Bill Is Just One Step Toward Helping Survivors of Economic Abuse

Annamarya Scaccia

The legislation would allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to terminate their lease early or request locks be changed if they have "a reasonable fear" that they will continue to be harmed while living in their unit.

Domestic violence survivors often face a number of barriers that prevent them from leaving abusive situations. But a new bill awaiting action in the Pennsylvania legislature would let survivors in the state break their rental lease without financial repercussions—potentially allowing them to avoid penalties to their credit and rental history that could make getting back on their feet more challenging. Still, the bill is just one of several policy improvements necessary to help survivors escape abusive situations.

Right now in Pennsylvania, landlords can take action against survivors who break their lease as a means of escape. That could mean a lien against the survivor or an eviction on their credit report. The legislation, HB 1051, introduced by Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery County), would allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to terminate their lease early or request locks be changed if they have “a reasonable fear” that they will continue to be harmed while living in their unit. The bipartisan bill, which would amend the state’s Landlord and Tenant Act, requires survivors to give at least 30 days’ notice of their intent to be released from the lease.

Research shows survivors often return to or delay leaving abusive relationships because they either can’t afford to live independently or have little to no access to financial resources. In fact, a significant portion of homeless women have cited domestic violence as the leading cause of homelessness.

“As a society, we get mad at survivors when they don’t leave,” Kim Pentico, economic justice program director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), told Rewire. “You know what, her name’s on this lease … That’s going to impact her ability to get and stay safe elsewhere.”

“This is one less thing that’s going to follow her in a negative way,” she added.

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Pennsylvania landlords have raised concerns about the law over liability and rights of other tenants, said Ellen Kramer, deputy director of program services at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which submitted a letter in support of the bill to the state House of Representatives. Lawmakers have considered amendments to the bill—like requiring “proof of abuse” from the courts or a victim’s advocate—that would heed landlord demands while still attempting to protect survivors.

But when you ask a survivor to go to the police or hospital to obtain proof of abuse, “it may put her in a more dangerous position,” Kramer told Rewire, noting that concessions that benefit landlords shift the bill from being victim-centered.

“It’s a delicate balancing act,” she said.

The Urban Affairs Committee voted HB 1051 out of committee on May 17. The legislation was laid on the table on June 23, but has yet to come up for a floor vote. Whether the bill will move forward is uncertain, but proponents say that they have support at the highest levels of government in Pennsylvania.

“We have a strong advocate in Governor Wolf,” Kramer told Rewire.

Financial Abuse in Its Many Forms

Economic violence is a significant characteristic of domestic violence, advocates say. An abuser will often control finances in the home, forcing their victim to hand over their paycheck and not allow them access to bank accounts, credit cards, and other pecuniary resources. Many abusers will also forbid their partner from going to school or having a job. If the victim does work or is a student, the abuser may then harass them on campus or at their place of employment until they withdraw or quit—if they’re not fired.

Abusers may also rack up debt, ruin their partner’s credit score, and cancel lines of credit and insurance policies in order to exact power and control over their victim. Most offenders will also take money or property away from their partner without permission.

“Financial abuse is so multifaceted,” Pentico told Rewire.

Pentico relayed the story of one survivor whose abuser smashed her cell phone because it would put her in financial dire straits. As Pentico told it, the abuser stole her mobile phone, which was under a two-year contract, and broke it knowing that the victim could not afford a new handset. The survivor was then left with a choice of paying for a bill on a phone she could no longer use or not paying the bill at all and being turned into collections, which would jeopardize her ability to rent her own apartment or switch to a new carrier. “Things she can’t do because he smashed her smartphone,” Pentico said.

“Now the general public [could] see that as, ‘It’s a phone, get over it,'” she told Rewire. “Smashing that phone in a two-year contract has such ripple effects on her financial world and on her ability to get and stay safe.”

In fact, members of the public who have not experienced domestic abuse may overlook financial abuse or minimize it. A 2009 national poll from the Allstate Foundation—the philanthropic arm of the Illinois-based insurance company—revealed that nearly 70 percent of Americans do not associate financial abuse with domestic violence, even though it’s an all-too-common tactic among abusers: Economic violence happens in 98 percent of abusive relationships, according to the NNEDV.

Why people fail to make this connection can be attributed, in part, to the lack of legal remedy for financial abuse, said Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project, a public interest law center in Pennsylvania. A survivor can press criminal charges or seek a civil protection order when there’s physical abuse, but the country’s legal justice system has no equivalent for economic or emotional violence, whether the victim is married to their abuser or not, she said.

Some advocates, in lieu of recourse through the courts, have teamed up with foundations to give survivors individual tools to use in economically abusive situations. In 2005, the NNEDV partnered with the Allstate Foundation to develop a curriculum that would teach survivors about financial abuse and financial safety. Through the program, survivors are taught about financial safety planning including individual development accounts, IRA, microlending credit repair, and credit building services.

State coalitions can receive grant funding to develop or improve economic justice programs for survivors, as well as conduct economic empowerment and curriculum trainings with local domestic violence groups. In 2013—the most recent year for which data is available—the foundation awarded $1 million to state domestic violence coalitions in grants that ranged from $50,000 to $100,000 to help support their economic justice work.

So far, according to Pentico, the curriculum has performed “really great” among domestic violence coalitions and its clients. Survivors say they are better informed about economic justice and feel more empowered about their own skills and abilities, which has allowed them to make sounder financial decisions.

This, in turn, has allowed them to escape abuse and stay safe, she said.

“We for a long time chose to see money and finances as sort of this frivolous piece of the safety puzzle,” Pentico told Rewire. “It really is, for many, the piece of the puzzle.”

Public Policy as a Means of Economic Justice

Still, advocates say that public policy, particularly disparate workplace conditions, plays an enormous role in furthering financial abuse. The populations who are more likely to be victims of domestic violence—women, especially trans women and those of color—are also the groups more likely to be underemployed or unemployed. A 2015 LGBT Health & Human Services Network survey, for example, found that 28 percent of working-age transgender women were unemployed and out of school.

“That’s where [economic abuse] gets complicated,” Tracy told Rewire. “Some of it is the fault of the abuser, and some of it is the public policy failures that just don’t value women’s participation in the workforce.”

Victims working low-wage jobs often cannot save enough to leave an abusive situation, advocates say. What they do make goes toward paying bills, basic living needs, and their share of housing expenses—plus child-care costs if they have kids. In the end, they’re not left with much to live on—that is, if their abuser hasn’t taken away access to their own earnings.

“The ability to plan your future, the ability to get away from [abuse], that takes financial resources,” Tracy told Rewire. “It’s just so much harder when you don’t have them and when you’re frightened, and you’re frightened for yourself and your kids.”

Public labor policy can also inhibit a survivor’s ability to escape. This year, five states, Washington, D.C., and 24 jurisdictions will have passed or enacted paid sick leave legislation, according to A Better Balance, a family and work legal center in New York City. As of April, only one of those states—California—also passed a state paid family leave insurance law, which guarantees employees receive pay while on leave due to pregnancy, disability, or serious health issues. (New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, and New York have passed similar laws.) Without access to paid leave, Tracy said, survivors often cannot “exercise one’s rights” to file a civil protection order, attend court hearings, or access housing services or any other resource needed to escape violence.

Furthermore, only a handful of state laws protect workers from discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy or familial status (North Carolina, on the other hand, recently passed a draconian state law that permits wide-sweeping bias in public and the workplace). There is no specific federal law that protects LGBTQ workers, but the U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission has clarified that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Still, that doesn’t necessarily translate into practice. For example, the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 26 percent of transgender people were let go or fired because of anti-trans bias, while 50 percent of transgender workers reported on-the-job harassment. Research shows transgender people are at a higher risk of being fired because of their trans identity, which would make it harder for them to leave an abusive relationship.

“When issues like that intersect with domestic violence, it’s devastating,” Tracy told Rewire. “Frequently it makes it harder, if not impossible, for [victims] to leave battering situations.”

For many survivors, their freedom from abuse also depends on access to public benefits. Programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the child and dependent care credit, and earned income tax credit give low-income survivors access to the money and resources needed to be on stable economic ground. One example: According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, where a family of three has one full-time nonsalary worker earning $10 an hour, SNAP can increase their take-home income by up to 20 percent.

These programs are “hugely important” in helping lift survivors and their families out of poverty and offset the financial inequality they face, Pentico said.

“When we can put cash in their pocket, then they may have the ability to then put a deposit someplace or to buy a bus ticket to get to family,” she told Rewire.

But these programs are under constant attack by conservative lawmakers. In March, the House Republicans approved a 2017 budget plan that would all but gut SNAP by more than $150 million over the next ten years. (Steep cuts already imposed on the food assistance program have led to as many as one million unemployed adults losing their benefits over the course of this year.) The House GOP budget would also strip nearly $500 billion from other social safety net programs including TANF, child-care assistance, and the earned income tax credit.

By slashing spending and imposing severe restrictions on public benefits, politicians are guaranteeing domestic violence survivors will remain stuck in a cycle of poverty, advocates say. They will stay tethered to their abuser because they will be unable to have enough money to live independently.

“When women leave in the middle of the night with the clothes on their back, kids tucked under their arms, come into shelter, and have no access to finances or resources, I can almost guarantee you she’s going to return,” Pentico told Rewire. “She has to return because she can’t afford not to.”

By contrast, advocates say that improving a survivor’s economic security largely depends on a state’s willingness to remedy what they see as public policy failures. Raising the minimum wage, mandating equal pay, enacting paid leave laws, and prohibiting employment discrimination—laws that benefit the entire working class—will make it much less likely that a survivor will have to choose between homelessness and abuse.

States can also pass proactive policies like the bill proposed in Pennsylvania, to make it easier for survivors to leave abusive situations in the first place. Last year, California enacted a law that similarly allows abuse survivors to terminate their lease without getting a restraining order or filing a police report permanent. Virginia also put in place an early lease-termination law for domestic violence survivors in 2013.

A “more equitable distribution of wealth is what we need, what we’re talking about,” Tracy told Rewire.

As Pentico put it, “When we can give [a survivor] access to finances that help her get and stay safe for longer, her ability to protect herself and her children significantly increases.”