A short woman wearing oversized sunglasses, her dirtyblond hair pulled up in a half bun, stands on the sidewalk in downtown Raleigh. Her colorful sign, written in pink and yellow marker and adorned with flowers, has a blunt but straightforward message: “My BFF & I Do NOT Regret Our Abortions.”

Lauren Youngman, 41, had her abortion eight years ago after she started experiencing complications in a planned pregnancy with her husband. Youngman had already named her baby boy—Kai—when the doctors told her something was wrong. Five months into pregnancy, more than halfway to the finish line, she had a choice: abort her baby now or watch him likely die in her arms.

“It was hard, but I have never regretted it,” Youngman told the INDY. “My husband and I were just really thankful for that choice.”

For now, abortion is still legal in North Carolina. But access to that choice is on the line as the US Supreme Court considers its decision in a landmark case, to be released later this year.

Roe v. Wade

A rare glimpse into the future of abortion rights came last week when a draft opinion from the US Supreme Court, on a case known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, leaked to Politico. The draft, penned by staunchly conservative Justice Samuel Alito and supported by the court’s four other Republican appointees, completely overturns the national constitutional right to abortion, wiping out the 50-year precedent set by Roe v. Wade.

In short, it’s the worst-case scenario. It would leave the choices of women in the hands of state legislators who, in North Carolina for years, have been trying to restrict and ban abortions.

“North Carolina won’t be the first [to ban abortion], but we could very well be second or third,” says Molly Rivera, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic. “[It depends] on what the state legislature decides to do and the results of this year’s election.”

Unlike other Southern states, North Carolina doesn’t have a “trigger law” that would immediately ban abortion if federal protection ends. But the state has long been hostile toward abortion and reproductive rights.

“There have been extreme abortion bans introduced,” says Tara Romano, the executive director of Pro-Choice North Carolina, a grassroots advocacy organization. “They never got anywhere, they didn’t get into committee. But there have been ‘personhood’ bans, six-week bans.

“So we are expecting anti-abortion lawmakers will want to figure out how they can introduce something [that will pass]. Whether or not they do it in the short [legislative] session [this year], we don’t know.”

In the past few years, Democratic governor Roy Cooper has staved off attempts at restricting abortion, vetoing bills approved by the majority-Republican state legislature. Whether Cooper can continue to effectively use his veto to protect reproductive rights will depend on the results of this fall’s midterm election. If Republicans win a supermajority—they need just two more seats in the state Senate and three in the House—they can override Cooper’s veto.

It’s also possible that a state law banning abortion after 20 weeks could be revived. The law, which was previously ruled unconstitutional, would have to be revisited by the courts.

“That’s one of the things we think potentially could quickly come back into place,” Romano says. “Certainly if the Supreme Court hands down a ruling that is similar or exactly like the draft that was leaked earlier this week, [state lawmakers] could easily go back and say, ‘Well, the court said this 20-week ban was unconstitutional, but based on this new ruling, it’s clear we should revisit that.’”

So far, abortion advocates have been able to “hold the line” against abortion restrictions, Romano says. But everything depends on the upcoming elections. Not only are state legislative seats up for grabs, but there are also judicial races on the ballot, which will decide who sits on district courts and the state Supreme Court. Those judges could eventually weigh in on cases of doctors and patients being prosecuted for abortions, says Romano.

Ashley Reynolds’s story

If laws like this had been in effect 25 years ago, Ashley Reynolds, then 17, would never have been able to get her abortion. Reynolds, Youngman’s “BFF,” had her abortion in St. Louis, in a clinic that no longer exists, in a state where abortion has now been banned, she says.

“I feel fortunate. My parents supported me, my mom went with me. And I don’t regret it, I never have,” Reynolds says. “It’s weird being 40-something, and we had more rights in our teens than we do now. I feel so bad for these young generations.”

Reynolds and Youngman were just two among hundreds of women (and men) who gathered in downtown Raleigh last week to protest the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade. The mood in the crowd was fearful but also angry and determined.

Cars and trucks honked to show support as they drove through the intersection of Wilmington and Hargett Streets. They were met with thundering cheers from protestors.

“I’m not necessarily scared for myself, but I’m scared for my girls,” said Lacey Thomas, a protestor accompanied by her nine-year-old daughter Brynnlee, both carrying pink, glittery signs. “And angry. It’s the same sort of enraged feeling I’ve sort of been feeling since 2016. It just comes and goes in waves.”

As the crowd marched up to the state capitol, chants filled the air. “No forced pregnancy,” protestors shouted. “Abortion is health care!” “My body, my choice!”

“My body is not for political battles!” shouted one young woman as she stood in front of a TV camera.

Alissa Ellis’s story

People who get abortions are often shamed, harrassed, or threatened by anti-choice zealots for their decision. But abortion is a safe and common medical procedure.

“One of the things we try to help people understand is that abortion is on the spectrum of reproductive health care, [along with] preventing an unplanned pregnancy, sexual health care, [and] carrying a pregnancy safely to term,” Romano says.

“It’s been pulled out and isolated as part of a political movement. Because it’s been so politicized, it becomes very theoretical for a lot of people. But it’s not. These restrictions aren’t just there in theory, they really are harming people who are trying to access care they’ve decided they need.”

In 2019, about 16 percent of pregnancies in North Carolina were terminated through abortion, according to the NC State Center for Health Statistics. The majority of those abortions were by people 20–34 years old. More than half were by people who already had at least one child.

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That was the case for Alissa Ellis, who already had a nine-year-old son when she elected to have a second abortion at age 30. Ellis is also a volunteer board member for Carolina Abortion Fund, a nonprofit that gives financial, practical, and emotional support to people trying to access abortion care.

“I was very clear I wanted to terminate the pregnancy as soon as possible,” Ellis says. “[But] accessing abortion was challenging even with health [insurance]. The original quote was $1,500 and then I was crying on the phone and they said they could do it for $1,000. But I had to finance that through a payment plan because it is a huge out-of-pocket expense.”

The high price tag of abortions is one of the biggest barriers to care, says Ellis. Not only do people often have to pay for abortion out of pocket—because North Carolina has prohibited public and some private insurers from including abortion coverage in their health plans—but people are also often forced to take unpaid time off work, pay for childcare, and travel long distances to get an abortion, paying for airfare, gas, and lodging.

Ellis’s abortion was a little more expensive because she got it at a hospital instead of a clinic. The average cost of abortion in North Carolina is $300–$600. But prices can reach into the thousands, depending on when the abortion is performed.

North Carolina’s restrictive laws make accessing abortion care even more difficult. In a state of 10.5 million people, there are only 14 clinics, all clustered in urban areas. People who want an abortion are required to wait three days and undergo mandatory, biased counseling. Doctors are banned from prescribing pills for medical abortions via telehealth appointments.

People under the age of 18 also have to get permission from a parent or guardian to seek an abortion, a law that would have prevented Ellis’s first abortion had her mother not been supportive.

“I had my first abortion at 17 because I wanted to go to college,” Ellis says. “My high school sweetheart at the time was like, ‘We can just not go to college. My parents can help us get a trailer and live together.’ I was like, ‘No. I want to go to college.’ I was getting ready to go to Meredith. It was my senior year of high school.”

Today, in addition to advocating for access to abortion, Ellis is a senior director at American Oversight, a Washington, DC, nonprofit that works to uncover public records and promote transparency and accountability in government.

An uncertain future

At the moment, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, it looks like North Carolina may be one of the southernmost states where people can access abortion, at least for a time. If that happens, abortion clinics in North Carolina could be flooded with people from South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia.

Our state could see up to a 4,672 percent increase in women seeking abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute. With such high demand, resources would be scarce. Waiting times for appointments would likely skyrocket, and money for abortion assistance would be short.

The Carolina Abortion Fund already has to shut down its call line after about two or three weeks each month, simply because it runs out of funding, says Ellis. Fortunately, after the Roe v. Wade news broke this week, the fund received an outpouring of support, raising close to $100,000 in donations.

“This funding will make abortion care a reality and practical support a reality for so many more people. A lot of times we’re not funding the full cost of abortion, we are subsidizing it,” Ellis says. “This influx is incredibly, incredibly meaningful.”

Download the INDY’s abortion resources guide, which includes information on how to volunteer or donate in the fight for reproductive rights as well as where to seek financial assistance for abortion services.

Although abortion rights activists nationwide are preparing themselves for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the draft opinion released last week is far from final, according to Neil Siegel, a professor of law and political science at Duke University and former clerk of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

When the US Supreme Court releases its definitive decision later this year, it’s possible the opinions of some on the court will have changed, Seigel said in a news release.

“When I clerked at the court, the draft main dissent in a case eventually became the final majority opinion,” Siegel said in the release. “I am not suggesting that anything like that will happen now, but it’s not over until the opinions are handed down.”

Siegel added that if the opinion shifts from majority to plurality, it could be rewritten to take a softer stance on Roe v. Wade, lessening the impact on abortion rights and future cases.

“At other times, a tentative bare majority opinion can lose a fifth vote and become a plurality opinion,” he said. “This would mean not a different outcome in Dobbs, but different reasoning that could have less severe implications for future cases.”

What effects the Supreme Court’s decision will have on abortion rights remains to be seen. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, the decision will have also implications for the right to privacy, a right on which birth control access, same-sex marriage, and health care for transgender people also rest.

In the meantime, women statewide are holding their breath, hoping that somehow, some way, the Republican-appointed justices of the US Supreme Court will change their minds.

One of those women is 20-year-old Izzy Jackson, a rising senior at NC State who joined last week’s Raleigh protest. Jackson has never needed an abortion, but if Roe v. Wade is overturned, her needs won’t matter.

“I just hope they don’t overturn it,” Jackson said with a strained laugh. “I’m just praying and hoping.”

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Follow Staff Writer Jasmine Gallup on Twitter or send an email to jgallup@indyweek.com.