RJ Court Watch: Can a Reproductive Justice Framework Help Turn North Carolina Blue?

In this episode, RJ Court Watch hosts Imani Gandy and Jessica Mason Pieklo discuss signs of hope and an emerging reproductive justice framework to respond to the relentless attacks on individual rights on everything from abortion access to voting in North Carolina.

Protestors at the first Moral Monday on July 8, 2013. StoryOfAmerica / YouTube

Related Links

Rewire Data: North Carolina

“Forward Together, Not One Step Back” Moral Mondays March Brings Tens of Thousands of Progressives 

Federal Court Permanently Blocks North Carolina Ultrasound Law


Welcome to RJ Court Watch, a legal podcast by Rewire and hosted by senior legal analysts Jessica Mason Pieklo and Imani Gandy.

This episode is a little different in that we’re not focusing in on a specific legal issue like whether or not corporations can practice religion. Instead we’re taking a peek into what’s going on in North Carolina. It’s an important state for reproductive rights and justice with a lot of fights going on whose outcomes will have some long-lasting effects. So I guess to that end it’s also a good example of how the law and politics can be two sides of the same coin.

JMP: This is kind of fun, in the sense that not that you and I don’t really enjoy digging into the legal issues, but we get to take a step back from some of the case law analysis and talk a little more politics, which, I know you and I like to talk politics a little bit.

IG: Love politics. Especially love politics that is geared toward opening up a reproductive justice lens in the reproductive rights movement.

JMP: We were really excited to be joined with Suzanne Buckley, who is the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, and as I mentioned we sort of focused in on North Carolina because it’s a battleground state in a lot of ways. There are obviously some reproductive rights issues that have bubbled up to the surface, but voting rights, public education, clean drinking water, environmental justice, right now North Carolina is on the forefront of all of these issues. And it’s a state that has some good strong progressive roots and also has the opportunity to help lead this part of the region out from the Tea Party madness that has taken hold since 2010.

IG: Yes and one of the great things about North Carolina is the diversity of perspective that is being brought to bear. I mean you’re seeing Black people, white people, Asian people, Latina people all coming together to fight for the same things. And I think particularly when looking at Black social conservative movements it’s a great way to sort of join Black church-going folk and to get them to understand what abortion rights are and to sort of push back against this idea that, you know, Black genocide, abortion is slavery, and this effort by a lot of conservatives to sort of tap into that church-going mentality and to convince Black people to become anti-choice. So I’m really happy to see things like Moral Mondays and to see people like Rev. Barber really taking a stand for reproductive rights and reproductive justice.

JMP: Oh absolutely. One of the reasons I was eager to focus on North Carolina is because for that reason. I think it’s a state with a lot of lessons for progressives, and one of them being the importance of communities of faith, and in particular in the South, the role of the Black churches in the social justice movement. And the Moral Monday protests, I’m not at all surprised to see they’ve caught on elsewhere and they’ve brought this issue to the forefront. And when I think of the idea of re-framing these issues as matters of reproductive justice, that just makes a lot of sense because they impact all of these communities. And they may not impact all of these communities equally, but at these various points we can come together and build coalition that uplifts everyone. And that I think is really inspiring coming out of North Carolina.

IG: It’s a way to use a social justice lens in order to draw parallels and comparisons between voting rights and reproductive rights and all of these other issues so that we can bring North Carolina back to blue, so that we can bring North Carolina, make it a sort of breeding ground for justice issues.

JMP: Exactly. And I think when we start to bring those issues together, when we talk about the connection between reproductive rights and attacks on voting rights as one thread of a larger attack on people’s civic engagement, and their ability to participate in our social, cultural, and governmental institutions that it reminds us that we all have kind of a common enemy in this fight. That while our communities may not always be the same and that we may have different and sometimes diverging interests, there is a pretty common force of folks who we can rally against.

IG: Absolutely. And I just think it is really heartening to see so many people willing to take to the streets to fight for their rights. I mean it sort of harkens back to the civil rights era you know where you have these massive protests, and what’s really disappointing I find is that the media tends to ignore these protests. So you have these Moral Mondays protests for going on for months and months before the media even started covering them. But that didn’t stop the people from taking to the streets. And one of the things that Suzanne will talk about in this interview is the ways in which North Carolina tried to ram through the “motorcycle abortion bill,” which was a motorcycle bill that they then attached all of these anti-choice provisions to and then tried to pass it at the last minute toward the end of the legislative session right before the Fourth of July holiday. And despite their efforts in doing so a lot of people were able to mobilize at the last minute and show up at the last minute and say no this is not acceptable.

JMP: And by contrast we have you know 50-60 Tea Party activists show up and its all over the national media. So I think there’s a real bias. And you know I try not to get into the whole “liberal media bias” “conservative media bias” but North Carolina is an excellent example of many media outlets being asleep at the switch.

IG: Absolutely. I absolutely agree and I’m really excited for people to listen to this interview and I’m also really excited for people to hear about what NARAL is doing in terms of partnering with people and groups like SisterSong in order to, to do a reproductive justice summit. I’m really, really heartened by the fact that reproductive justice seems to be sweeping the nation for lack of a better term and I hope we see that more going forward.

JMP: Absolutely. The reproductive justice summit that NARAL is one step in the right direction. And I love too the idea that there’s a lot of youth involvement and momentum in this movement. I think that’s really important too because we’re seeing that issues like immigration reform and voting rights and reproductive rights and access issues. There are young folks who absolutely understand what its like to live at the intersections and margins of these points and are informing policy moving forward in a way that, again I think is hopeful. And when you work in reproductive rights and justice we don’t always get a lot, a lot of opportunity to shine a light on hope, right? We’re more accustomed to talking about defense, or the attacks on rights and access and equality and so its good to see some folks in a really entrenched state taking a proactive, forward looking, hopeful approach too.

IG:  Absolutely. I love the fact that we are at a place where we can be more proactive instead of being reactive all of the time, because anti-choicers are nothing if not persistent, and they are constantly proactive and thinking outside the box looking at ways they can strip women of their rights and strip people of justice and the fact that we’re starting take that tact and to push back is very heartening.

JMP:  We are thrilled to introduce Suzanne Buckley, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina. Suzanne is here to help us talk about North Carolina as a kind of reproductive justice case study. So Suzanne, thank you so much for joining us.

SB: Sure thanks for having me.

JMP: I would like to start by taking just a little bit of time to talk about the political climate in North Carolina, in part because as a state it’s not necessarily a traditionally conservative state and I think there’s a lot of interesting political dynamics going on that, particularly recently, help explain some of the really extreme attacks on individual rights that we’re seeing go on in the state, so can you talk with us a little bit about that.

SB: Sure. Well North Carolina has historically been a purple state and we remain statewide a very purple state. If you look at Obama winning North Carolina in 2008 and then narrowly losing in 2012, North Carolina has traditionally been one of the more progressive states in the South. Because of redistricting that has happened in the last couple of years we’ve seen really extreme districts either that are extreme Republican districts and a few that are extreme Democratic districts so for most of us working in the field, the folks on the ground are not, their values and their views are not necessarily being represented by the body and the General Assembly. So there’s a lot of disconnect between what are “North Carolina values” and what is going on in our General Assembly. So for the first time, certainly in my lifetime  and I’m from here we have an anti-choice governor, an anti-choice majority on our state Supreme Court and an anti-choice supermajority in our General Assembly. So this is an unprecedented time for folks working in reproductive rights and health and for anyone who is just socially justice minded this is the first time we’ve been in such an extreme legislative minority. And I think that is why we are seeing, from the work that I’ve done, when I started working in this field about ten years ago the bills that were introduced–the mandatory ultrasound bill, the bias counseling bill all those bills had been introduced every single year for the last ten years and they had just never gone anywhere. So we are seeing you know a wishlist from the folks who have been in the minority and have been working on these issues finally able to push legislation. And that’s what we’re seeing. We’re seeing an outpouring of voter suppression, attacks on Medicaid, and every sort of neo-conservative dream is coming to fruition right now in North Carolina.

IG: So one of the more shocking efforts to ram anti-choice legislation through in North Carolina was the sort-of Hail Mary passage of SB 353 which was a motorcycle safety bill but then was amended to add multiple anti-choice an insurance coverage for abortion ban, a sex-selective abortion ban, and a ban on telemedicine among other things. And listeners can review the restrictions included in that bill by checking out our new interactive search tool Rewire Data and the url for that is data.rhrealitycheck.org. But I’m wondering if you can explain a little bit about how a bill about motorcycle safety turned into one of the more stringent anti-choice laws that were passed last year and how motorcycle safety has anything to do with pregnancy or abortion or reproductive rights, maybe explain what the North Carolina anti-choice folks were thinking.

SB: If I knew that my life would be a lot easier. We saw versions of this legislation throughout our legislative session. There had been hearings on pieces of it that had either been defeated or gone through one of the two chambers. But what we saw in about a 15-20 day period was the gutting of two-bills. The first was an anti-Sharia law bill which is similarly perplexing as to how those things are related. And then a slightly less-bad version that ended up in this motorcycle safety bill and in politics in general and in policy making there are a lot of procedural things that happen and ways that folks try to use parliamentary procedure and other types of civil procedure to allow bills to pass quickly and to try and pass them without a lot of public attention. And so one of the things that folks tried to do, and it was wrapped up in the larger debates that were going around between the majority on tax reform and a lot of other issues was to take a bill that to this day has nothing to do with reproductive health and safety and gut it and insert a bunch of different provisions, some of which hadn’t had any hearing at all and most of which hadn’t been thoroughly discussed or there hadn’t been a lot of opportunity for amendment and because of the way they did this on a holiday weekend, I think the thought was we’ll just sort of slip this in really quickly, everyone will go home for the break and nobody will notice until it is all over. And one of the things we were able to do working with our partners is to get 600 folks to show up overnight on July 3, I believe, at the General Assembly and to stand up and say we’re watching. We’re here. Nice try. But we’re going to notice this and we’re going to remember it. And I think it was interesting because they have the votes. So just in terms of if you’re a political junkie and thinking of “why do it this way,” it was very interesting to see why not have full hearings and full disclosure if you have the votes anyway, right? Why go through all this process and procedure to try and push this thing through. And I think they’re still trying to answer that question. But I think the more discussion and more disclosure that goes on around this legislation and this new law the more extreme it sounds and the harder it is for them to say this is about women’s health and safety.

IG: Right. And so are there challenges that you are expecting to that law?

SB: At this point, the biggest piece of it that is sort of new for North Carolina, the bans on abortion care coverage in the health [insurance] exchange and a lot of the so-called conscience clause refusals those are already playing out in the courts and in other areas. And the biggest piece is that they’ve given the authority to our health department, the Department of Health and Human Services, to create new TRAP [targeted regulation of abortion providers] laws that apply to clinics, and that process is going on right now. Those rules haven’t come out yet. So we’re sort of in the process of waiting to see what those rules are before we are able to really mount any kind of challenge.

IG: Is there a sense that this law is going to hurt certain groups of women more so than others, for example low-income women, minority women, rural… or is it just that this law is bad for everyone and we’re just doing what we can to try and pare it back?

SB: Sort of both. Right now, 90 percent of counties have no local women’s health care center that provides abortion care. So the landscape currently is not great. So we’re looking at restricting access even further. It’s likely that the clinics, there’s one clinic in a rural part of our state and then there’s another clinic in the mountains that announced recently they were going to be closing, so we’re already operating in a landscape that is while not as egregious as Texas, is getting toward that where folks are traveling, if they are able to at all, hours to get to a clinic, then you layer mandatory waiting periods on top of that every TRAP regulation that we’ve seen or that has been discussed would have a disparate impact on rural women, low-income women, women of color. That group of folks and the people that lay at the margins are continuing to get hit by all of these laws.

JMP: I want to pick up on this point because Suzanne you mentioned it and Imani you really drew it out as well that the reproductive rights restrictions and particularly the impact of them falling heaviest on low-income women, rural women, women of color in the state and then when you add on top of that efforts by conservatives to push back against expanding Medicaid and attacks on North Carolina’s really historically great public education system it becomes clear why its a battleground state. But thankfully you folks at NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina have a program that you’re working on to help push back against some of this and I’m hoping you can talk a little bit about that Suzanne and fill us with a little bit of hope.

SB: Sure. Well first I will say that NARAL has historically and continues to be very much a reproductive rights organization and what a lot of folks and what I particularly noticed coming out of the amazing momentum around the Moral Mondays movement and working with ally organizations is how intersectional these laws really are and how intersectional the impact is and really trying to think about how do we create a space to have some of those conversations both among social justice organizations and with young people who are so entrenched in the movement and doing amazing work and trying to create a space for conversations around that and a space where we can look at how can we apply a reproductive justice lens to immigration rights in our state, to voting rights in our state, to reproductive rights in our state. So we have partnered with SisterSong, El Pueblo, which is a local organization based in Raleigh, and Youth Empowered Solutions, which is also a local organization based in Raleigh that works with teens, to host a reproductive justice summit this summer in June that really starts to have these conversations and do some both relationship building and skills building to help frame some of these issues in a way that our organization hasn’t been historically but that some of the partner organizations that we’re working with and brainstorming and bringing to the table have done wonderfully and really starting to build intentionally a space for that to happen.

JMP: This summit is great. If you can talk about the lack of transparency you mentioned and how maybe that helped spur some of this coalition building around these issues because I think the Moral Mondays movement is really inspirational and a great way for us to remember that a lot of advances in reproductive rights came through this broader social justice framework originally and maybe what’s going on in North Carolina is a little bit of a return to that.

SB: One of the things that was really inspiring about the space created by the North Carolina NAACP and the Moral Mondays movement was not just what was going on on the stage with the featured speakers, but what was going on in the crowds with folks who were coming to the General Assembly who were motivated by lots of different things going on and it wasn’t today is going to be women’s reproductive health day. It was a time and a space for folks to talk about how all kinds of issues were impacting them and I think that it was, really, for me it was really inspiring to see young people engage in that conversation and to realize that for a lot of them there really isn’t a space, especially for folks who are in rural areas of the state or who are doing a lot of their organizing online a space where they can come and learn from each other more than learning from us. But also, what can we add to help them understand some of the impacts around this legislation and to let them know what’s going on from a rights perspective but also nurture that exploration of how does this affect me in my community and what are other issues that nobody is talking about because they’ve gotten sublimated with everything that has been going on last summer and in the last year its just impossible for some things not to get lost or the overwhelming impact of it all to seem like well there is nothing I can do because it is all so big to break it down at a local level to see what is it that we can build in our communities to help us take back our state.

JMP: If folks are interested in getting involved in North Carolina what’s the best and easiest way to do so?

SB: Sure our website is prochoicenc.org and they can sign up for updates and contact us for volunteer information and we would love to have anyone from North Carolina or otherwise who is interested in engaging in the work we’re doing.

JMP: Suzanne thank you so much for taking time away from your busy schedule to talk about all the things going on in North Carolina and about your upcoming reproductive justice summit. We’re really looking forward to hearing more about it. There’s a lot of important battles going on in your state and we’re glad that you guys are there pushing back and hopefully pushing forward too soon. Thank you so much for your time.

SB: Thank you.

Thank you for listening to RJ Court Watch, a legal podcast produced by Rewire. Tune in for future episodes where we discuss buffer zones, clinic access and the First Amendment, the close of the Supreme Court term, and what the undue burden standard means in an age of clinic closures. For even more coverage, be sure and visit us at www.rhrealitycheck.org