Many Chatham County residents and elected officials expressed frustration and anger at the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last Friday to overturn Roe v. Wade — a bedrock court case protecting reproductive rights — while others celebrated its demise.
Even though Friday’s ruling was expected following a leaked draft opinion by Politico in early May, that didn’t make the anguish any less palpable for those who shared their frustration about the ruling.
“The rejection of a woman’s right to choose by the Supreme Court felt like a gut punch,” said Brooke Davis, who attends The Local Church in Pittsboro. “As a woman and mother of three daughters, I believe bodily autonomy, supportive healthcare, and choices are imperative — for everyone. Reproductive health suppression already negatively impacts marginalized individuals and it is heartbreaking to think about the generational implications of this vote. We must continue to advocate and support the right to choose.”
Colleen Sharp, a fellow Local Church congregant, said the abortion issue often ignores the nuances of deeply personal decisions.
“It ignores the fact that this is an incredibly complex and emotional issue, and no woman wants to have an abortion,” Sharp said. “But she should have the choice, decided by her with input from her doctor. This is about women’s rights. And women’s rights are human rights. There’s only one side to that issue.”
The court’s overturning of the landmark ruling is likely to lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states. North Carolina, however, is not one of them — for now.
In response to that prospect, Caroline Puckett, along with Chatham resident Valerie Scull, organized a protest on Monday outside the Historic Courthouse in Pittsboro. (See story, page A7.) Puckett said she hoped it would spark change in her community.
“I’m hoping that this protest will help our small town wake up,” Puckett, 19, said. “I stand with those that are affected by this crisis and I know coming together to express our feelings and our anger will help me, and hopefully all of us, feel seen and heard, and share love and support all around.”
Scull said as soon as the news of the ruling broke, she knew she had to take action.
“The minute I found out about the overturn, I immediately messaged Caroline saying that we needed to plan a protest,” Scull said. “We want to get as many people in the circle as possible to support women of color, trans men, and every woman who is going through the unimaginable.”
Other young Chathamites also shared their concerns. Aiden Vigus, 18, said the decision was “disgusting.”
“It is yet another depiction of the very shallow extent of how ‘for the people’ our ‘for the people, of the people’ government is,” Vigus told the News + Record. “This overturn is most certainly not indicative of the will of the people of this country, but rather the will of the five Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade.”
Not everyone in Chatham, however, was opposed to the decision. Bruce MacInnes, the pastor of Goldston Baptist Church, applauded it.
“When I first learned of the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade I rejoiced and thought of the thousands of children who will live and not die,” he said. “Abortion takes the life of a child. It is not a removal of unwanted tissue but the taking of an innocent life. God’s word says this. Science says this. Common sense says this.”
The Supreme Court made “a horrendous decision” almost 50 years ago, he said.
“But they finally reversed it,” MacInnes said. “The prayers of millions for years and years were finally answered, and we couldn’t be happier about it.”
MacInnes said he took note of the strong reactions to the Supreme Court’s action.
“I see a growing divide in our country that is not so much political as it is an issue of right and wrong,” he said. “Political issues are size of government, priorities of spending, taxes, foreign policy, etc. The deepening divide in America is moral issues: abortion, marriage, sexuality, race, etc. Governments have to learn to compromise over political issues but people and governments cannot compromise over moral issues. Morality can never be decided by consensus but by truth and truth comes from God.”
But not every faith leader in the area agreed with MacInnes. Brent Levy, pastor at The Local Church, told his congregation that the overturning of Roe v. Wade was “not nearly as simple as being pro-life or pro-choice.”
“We know that life is more complex than this,” he said. “For those who are cheering this decision, there are important questions and calls to action related to the care of the mother and child before and especially after the child is born. For instance, what sort of support — financial and otherwise — will be needed? How are individuals and communities called to surround families with a network of support to meet the ongoing physical, mental, and spiritual demands of raising a child?”
In a letter to church members, Levy wrote: “I grieve with women who, for any number of reasons, have had to access abortion and for whom this decision may kick up past trauma. I grieve with women for whom circumstances such as sexual assault and rape have necessitated abortions. I grieve a legal system that fails to hold space for these horrific acts. I grieve the ways this decision will put women in even greater danger.”
Levy said he wanted to affirm “it’s possible to believe wholeheartedly in the sanctity of life while also realizing that no law can account for every nuance, complexity and circumstance.”
Hannah Holden, another member of the church, agreed.
“The overturning of Roe v. Wade continues to exemplify how we feel about women and children in our society,” she said. “We are not valued, we cannot make our own choices for our own bodies. This is shown further in the Supreme Court ruling just days earlier to expand gun rights, without any ban on assault rifles. My heart is beyond broken for American women, we continue to be marginalized and not allowed to think for ourselves. We now have less rights in 2022 than we did in 1973.“
Andrew Taylor-Troutman, pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church, echoed Levy’s sentiments, saying the decision did not actually support a “pro-life” approach. (For further insight from Taylor-Troutman, see his column in this week’s edition.)
Karen Howard, the chairperson of Chatham’s board of commissioners, was another who said she was “saddened and disappointed” by the ruling.
“I am concerned for any women and families who may suffer from a lack of access to safe, reproductive healthcare resulting from this decision,” she said.
Abortion is still legal in the state and Gov. Roy Cooper, along with Attorney General Josh Stein, said they remain committed to protecting abortion access for people across the state.
“For the women of North Carolina: you still have a legal right to an abortion in our state. North Carolina state law protects women’s reproductive freedoms,” Stein tweeted Friday. “This is true even after the Supreme Court today stripped women of their right to an abortion under the Constitution by overturning Roe v. Wade. If we want to keep our freedoms under state law, then we have to elect state officials who commit to protecting them.”
Chatham County’s incoming District Attorney, Jeff Nieman, has also emphasized no trigger laws are in place in North Carolina, meaning abortion will likely remain legal for the time being.
“At this point, there are no laws, as we’ve seen enacted in other states, criminalizing abortion in North Carolina,” Nieman told the News + Record.
He reiterated his statements from last month, which were issued prior to his election, pledging not to bring criminal cases against women who have abortions or doctors who perform abortions, even if the practice is outlawed.
“We cannot stand for this assault on women and private reproductive healthcare decisions,” Nieman said in May. “I have committed to join more than 60 prosecutors nationwide in this pledge not to prosecute women who obtain abortions nor the health care professionals who perform or assist in these procedures.”
Cooper also expressed his disdain for the decision and vowed to continue protecting reproductive rights in the state.
“I will continue to trust women to make their own medical decisions as we fight to keep politicians out of the doctor’s exam room,” Cooper said in a statement.
House Democratic Leader Rep. Robert Reives II (D-Dist. 54) of Goldston also disagreed with the ruling. He said the N.C. General Assembly should push to codify Roe v. Wade by passing Senate Bill 888.
“Abortion is still legal in North Carolina, but the General Assembly should act now to codify the long-standing holdings of the Roe decision,” Reives told the News + Record.
He said Cooper’s veto is one of the only obstacles remaining in keeping abortion accessible for North Carolinians.
“Republican leaders have told me that the General Assembly will not do anything this year but will be a top priority next year when they hope to have a supermajority in the legislature,” Reives said. “For now, Governor Cooper’s veto will prevent any controversial bills from becoming law.”
The man challenging Reives in November’s general election, Walter Petty, said overturning the ruling was the proper choice because it put the decision back in the hands of the states.
“Most agree the Roe v. Wade decision was based on a shaky legal foundation from the beginning, including the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” Petty told the News + Record. “The intent of last week’s decision by Supreme Court was to return this issue to the states where it should have been all along. This gives North Carolina citizens a voice on the issues around abortion and it’s impact.”
State Republicans have pushed to place more restrictions on abortions, but the Gov. Cooper has vetoed those efforts and vowed to continue to do so.
According to the Associated Press, Republican leaders Tim Moore and Phil Burger plan on taking up a 20-week abortion ban in the upcoming long session. Moore and Burger said “we stand ready to take the necessary steps” to restore the 20-week limit — likely through filing their own request to lift an injunction blocking the law’s enforcement. As it stands, the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled the right to an abortion until fetal viability, which is generally between 24 and 28 weeks.
Some prominent N.C. Republicans including Sen. Thom Tillis and Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, also praised the ruling.
“I am overjoyed with the decision by our Supreme Court,” Robinson said in a statement. “For decades we have been praying for a day like today and it is finally here. I have experienced the pain of abortion in my own life and know the long-term effects it can have on families.”
Tillis echoed Robinson’s sentiments saying the decision was the right choice.
“This ruling is historic and monumental and affirms my belief that all life is sacred,” Tillis said. “Each state government and its duly elected representatives will now make the determination about the types of laws they wish to have in place.”
Chatham County, like Public Health Departments across the state, will continue to offer family planning services. Any resident of North Carolina may receive family planning services at the Chatham County Public Health Department clinics. More information about family planning services in Chatham County can be found at www.chathamcountync.gov/familyplanning. The Chatham County Department of Social Services accepts applications for the Medicaid program for women and children. Applications can be made in person at the Department of Social Services, online through epass.nc.gov or by mail.
“Now, more than ever before, we must fight to protect the reproductive rights of women at the state level,” Howard said. “I stand with Governor Cooper and other state leaders who recognize the constitutional right of every woman to have access to safe health care and will continue to do my part to ensure that right is protected here in Chatham County and North Carolina.”
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