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New law requires waiting period, counseling for abortion

Echoing a national trend, North Carolina lawmakers voted to require waiting periods and other stipulations before a woman can get an abortion.

N.C. Senate Bill 769, also called the Woman’s Right to Know Act, was vetoed upon initial state congress passing but was overridden in the General Assembly this summer.

The bill will become law in October. Women seeking an abortion will have to wait 24 hours after requesting the procedure to have it done. In the interim, the physician performing the abortion is required to inform the woman of the medical risks involved in having an abortion and in childbirth, the probable gestational age of the fetus, the location of a hospital offering obstetrical or gynecological care within 30 miles, as well as the physician’s insurance status and the existence of public support options for the woman other than abortion.

The bill also stipulates that the woman will have the opportunity to hear a fetal heartbeat and be shown an ultrasound image. There is no penalty for declining to listen to a heartbeat or averting one’s eyes from the ultrasound.

Jim Hawkins, Elon University physician and medical director, said he is in favor of more medical information being available to those seeking an abortion, but that the law itself is problematic.

As it is, Hawkins said, some women in North Carolina get a lot of information about the abortion procedure, while some get none. Requiring complete and accurate medical advice is admirable, but he said he disagreed with the potential motive behind the law.

“It’s a political issue,” he said. “It has nothing to do with health.”

Although he does not perform abortions, Hawkins said he sees two to three Elon students each year seeking an abortion. He gives the same advice to each.

“You have three choices,” he said. “You can have the child and raise it, or give it up for adoption or have an abortion. You need to sit down and think about it. Talk to the potential father. Talk to your mother.”

Hawkins also said the women he’s seen who had made up their mind to have an abortion were unlikely to back down from that decision. Where the law may prevent abortions, he said, is in rural communities where the 24-hour waiting period might be a burden on the un- or underemployed, those already single mothers and those without reliable transportation.

“I’m not pro-abortion or pro-life,” Hawkins said. “I’m a reasonable person.”

Amanda Gallagher, professor of communications and coordinator of the interdisciplinary women’s and gender studies minor, said that with all health care decisions, not just reproductive care, women need to be well-informed in order to take care of themselves.

“The structure of the bill does put up more barriers,” Gallagher said. “On the flip side, it may allow people to make more informed decisions. But a part of me says that if you’ve already decided to terminate a pregnancy, hopefully you’ve already had those conversations.”

But for Gallagher, the question of whether low-income women or those with children would be able to access abortions at all is problematic.

“That’s two days a woman may have to miss work, two days a woman may have to arrange childcare,” she said. “And there’s also a lot of discussion about what it would feel like to have
to walk in twice.”

Hawkins said the women he’s interacted with facing the prospect of an abortion are already shaken up enough.

“Women have psychological trauma from any of the three options,” he said.

Gallagher said the argument from some detractors is that the law takes health care decision-making away from the women it affects. But as a complicated and complex law, both sides, pro-life and pro-choice, are affected.

“It’s not designated by one particular group, be it age, race, background, etc.,” she said. “And we’re always talking about women — it can impact men, too. What might it be like to be in the father’s perspective, even if he supports her decision to terminate the pregnancy? What would he feel like if she had to go back, to have that conversation again?”

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