A new bill in North Carolina is looking to cut through the state’s regressive, redundant anti-abortion laws that make it harder for marginalized groups to access the procedure that is protected as a federal right.

The Remove Barriers/Gain Access to Abortion Act, or “RBG Bill,” was filed in the state legislature Monday by representatives across the state in an effort to remove some of the controversial, restrictive policies passed by the General Assembly in recent years. It was named in honor of late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and filed on the first day of Women’s History Month.

“Decades of attacks on reproductive freedom by this General Assembly have increased the risks and expenses related to abortion care, making it more inaccessible for people of color, people who live in rural areas, and people of lower-incomes,” Mars Earle, engagement director of the North Carolina Abortion Fund, said in a press release. “The RBG Act would reverse previous attacks on reproductive freedom and would make reproductive healthcare safer and more accessible.”

While North Carolina is less restrictive than other southern states, it still has some of the strictest anti-abortion policies in the country. The RBG Bill takes aim at four of these: the 72-hour delay between receiving state-mandated counseling and having an abortion, the restrictions on who can perform an abortion and where, redundant bans on Medicaid coverage of abortions, and the ban on abortions being performed via telemedicine if the patient opts for the medicinal procedure.

Multiple Triangle legislators are involved with the bill: Representatives Julie Von Haefen (HD 36) and Vernetta Alston (HD 29) are primary co-sponsors in the House, while Senators Natalie Murdock (SD 20) and Jay Chaudhuri (SD 15) are co-sponsors in their chamber.

“This is particularly important during the pandemic,” von Haefen said at a press conference Monday. “The public health crisis has limited access to healthcare dramatically in a time when family planning is more important than ever for people.”

North Carolinians can only terminate unwanted pregnancies in nine counties; most are home to the state’s cities or colleges and situated in the Piedmont region. Despite the scarcity of clinics, at least two people in every county reported having an abortion in 2019, according to data collected by DHHS. The majority of people who receive abortions have never had an abortion before, are unmarried, and have them before eight weeks gestation time, according to data reported to the state.

Current laws are often redundant, including the state’s Medicaid bans (the federal Hyde Amendment doesn’t allow public money to cover abortion) and the personnel and facility requirements despite no reported difference in safety if the procedure is performed at a clinic instead of at a surgery center. Other laws and recent bills have worked to restrict access even more, such as 2019’s failed “born alive” bill that would have imposed extra regulations on providers, and a 2015 ban on abortions after 20 weeks that was eventually shot down by a federal court. A September 2020 lawsuit brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights is tackling five more anti-abortion laws in the state, including several issues addressed in the RBG Bill.

Those looking to terminate a pregnancy in North Carolina are much more likely to come across a crisis pregnancy center—an unregulated group that funnels anti-abortion rhetoric and misinformation to pregnant patients. More than 100 of these centers exist across the state and have been legitimized by governing bodies, as when, for instance, “Choose Life” license plates directly benefitting these organizations were allowed by the U.S. Court of Appeals. State Republicans submitted a bill to the House on February 1 that would regulate these and other birth centers, while simultaneously prohibiting these groups from performing abortions.

Passing a bill that takes sensible steps toward reproductive health may be a difficult battle. North Carolina’s General Assembly skews Republican—they outnumber Democrats 69-51 in the House and 28-22 in the Senate. In the coming days, the RBG Act will be read to the chambers of the legislature and move onto committee recommendations. To show support of the bill, contact your legislators and ask them to co-sponsor, or thank them if they’re already involved. 

Follow Digital Content Manager Sara Pequeño on Twitter or send an email to spequeno@indyweek.com

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