Whatever you do, GO VOTE FIRST!
The 2022 Primary Election is on, folks. Early Voting is taking place around Buncombe County through May 14, and you may use same-day registration if you need it during the early voting period. The 10 county locations, maps, hours and more can be found at Buncombe County Election Services, www.buncombecounty.org/common/election/early-voting-schedule.pdf, or you may call (828) 250-4200 for voting information.
The official, countywide Primary Election Day (with all precincts open for your voting pleasure!) is Tuesday, May 17, with polls open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. (as long as you are in line by 7:30 p.m. you will be allowed to vote). Curbside voting is available for anyone unable to go inside the precinct due to age or disability—just look for the curbside voting sign.
You know you don’t want to miss this.
Update on Legislature (World’s Longest Session?)
In what felt like the World’s Longest Legislative Session, the North Carolina General Assembly’s 2021 “long session” is (almost) finally O-V-E-R. It is now claiming the historic fame of being the first long session adjourned in the year following its start date.
The traditional “short session” of the 2021-2022 Legislature is on the calendar to kick off on May 13, and legislative watchers have been anticipating the short session will take up at least three high-profile proposals: the expansion of Medicaid; the legalization of medical marijuana; and sports wagering in the state.
Now there is the possibility of a fourth topic—abortion rights—in the wake of the explosive federal news from the US Supreme Court regarding the potential overruling of Roe v. Wade. The landmark case that provided women with legal abortion choices in the country as of January 22, 1973, is expected to be overturned.
Current “on-the-books” Abortion Law in NC
Provided the leaked early draft of the pending abortion decision by the Supreme Court justices holds a steady course, state law would assume the role of underpinning abortion dictates. This state has laws on the books that would provide for abortion under restrictive conditions—such as requiring parental consent of parents or guardians if the pregnant person is under 18—and banning abortion after 20 weeks except to save the life or health of the mother. There is a further requirement that abortion providers be licensed medical doctors.
Looking a bit more closely, the main provisions of NC law do not call for medical requirements regarding mother or fetus in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy (about the middle of the second trimester). After 20 weeks, there must be “substantial risk that would threaten life, health of mother” (Findlaw, North Carolina Abortion Laws).” An unlawful abortion would be considered a Class H felony (fine and/or imprisonment up to 10 years); a Class I felony (fine and/or imprisonment up to 5 years); or a Class 1 misdemeanor for failing to obtain parental consent.
According to the Findlaw interpretation, the definition of an “illegal abortion” applies when a doctor or other person gives the pregnant person any instrument or substance with intent to cause a miscarriage. The exception of substantial risk to the mother, however, would still apply.
The Guttmacher Institute lays out a full list of North Carolina restrictions as of January 1, 2022, that impact other areas of a woman’s capacity to receive the abortion health care of her choice. Here are some of its findings:
- A patient must receive state-directed counseling (to establish “informed consent”) that includes information designed to discourage abortion, then wait 72 hours before the procedure.
- Health plans in the state’s health exchange (under the Affordable Care Act), or other public funds, can cover abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest.
- Insurance policies for public employees cover abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest.
- Public funding is available only in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest.
- A patient must undergo an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion.
- The use of telemedicine to administer medication abortion is prohibited.
- An abortion may be performed at or after viability only in cases of life endangerment or severely compromised health.
- The state requires abortion clinics to meet unnecessary and burdensome standards related to their physical plants, equipment, and staffing.
And there is a monkey wrench in the whole “legal” works. NC Health News (May 5, 2022), explains that the post-20-week ban was “struck down by a federal judge in the Bryant v. Woodall case, which was decided in 2021. This clouds the immediate future of abortion law in this state and may contribute to potential new legislation from the Republican-dominated Legislature.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, however, has a history of vetoing Republican-sponsored abortion bills since his election in 2016, and on May 2 announced his intention to continue: “Now more than ever, governors and state legislatures must stand up for women’s healthcare. We know the stakes and must stand firm to protect a woman’s choice and access to medical care.”
North Carolina is surrounded by states that have “trigger laws” in place, according to NC Health News. These laws would restrict or ban abortion in the event of the formal overturn of Roe. “And it is likely,” they say, “that South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia would all ban abortion as soon as the Supreme Court decision is made.”
Going backward in time, North Carolina legalized abortion six years before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Facing South provided this history in its article “VOICES: Remembering North Carolina’s Pro-Choice Past” (January 22, 2013). At that time, ours was one of a small number of states (including California and Colorado) to allow abortions in cases of rape, incest, fetal abnormality, or endangerment of the mother’s life.
But with the Republican majority sweep of both legislative chambers in 2010, abortion law changed in NC to include the mandatory “counseling” and other forced stipulations mentioned above, such as required submission to an ultrasound (or listening to a narration of the image if the patient looks away).
With the issue of women’s rights under the law at the head of many news columns now and through the election period, stay informed and see that your current and future legislators are also educated on the subject.
Leandro Status Remains Nebulous
When last we talked, as it were, this important school-funding legal case was nearing some sort of potential settlement in the courts with the resolution of a state Supreme Court order to determine whether an ordered $1.7 billion could be transferred from the (overflowing) state treasury in order to fund the designated Leandro settlement.
The latest ruling by Judge Michael Robinson declares that the state is underfunding the settlement in this case—and owes $785.1 million in 2022 and again in 2023 for new education spending. But he removed an earlier order requiring a budget transfer, siding with the argument that such a transfer bypasses the General Assembly’s presumed (at least by him) power of the purse.
In this state soap opera, with a full generation of school children now affected, the Republican leadership of the General Assembly has intervened to oppose the Leandro Plan in its entirety and asked that the original funding order be struck down. The next step will be for the NC Supreme Court to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the order to transfer funds.
Word to the Wise: There’s a New “State News Kid” on the Block
It has come to the attention of this state news wonk that a promising new online publication is providing some old-style, deep-dive journalism about various state topics and issues, and its beginning issues are well worth investigating. It’s called The Assembly, and it’s a year-old digital magazine that uses old-style, longform reporting about “the people, ideas, and institutions that drive North Carolina.”
According to editor in chief Kyle Villemain, “We support great reporters as they spend weeks or even months on big stories. We find the nuance and the tension behind the big political, cultural, and economic stories of the state.”
The Assembly publishes one big story a week, along with new reporting twice a week via newsletter. Yes, there is a cost (unlike this incredible local resource you are reading for free, The Urban News), but it’s relatively modest. And there’s a Facebook presence as well (The AssemblyNC). I highly recommend checking it out.
Nelda Holder is the author of The Thirteenth Juror – Ferguson: A Personal Look at the Grand Jury Transcripts.