Seems GOP legislators in North Carolina are fixated on dialing back the rights of women and trans youth in their state. This summer, conservative House and Senate members in the state held several special sessions for the expressed purpose of overriding several vetoes of legislation attacking women and trans youth that had been issued by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper, further cementing the state’s reputation for hostility to women and the LGBTQ+ community.
In May, the legislature passed a 12-week abortion ban, further restricting abortion access from the previous 20-week standard. Governor Cooper’s veto failed when legislators reconvened just a week later to override it. Abortion providers promptly challenged the bill on the grounds that certain vague provisions endangered providers who may be unknowingly breaking the law, therefore limiting their ability to provide legal abortions without undue liability. Lawmakers responded by quickly redrafting those provisions, which were then signed into law. A federal judge then blocked two provisions: one, which would have required any medically exempted abortions performed after 12 weeks to be performed only in hospitals, and another that required medical providers to document the existence of a pregnancy in the uterus prior to administering a medication abortion. The rest of the 12-week ban remains in effect since July 1.
North Carolina has long been hostile to abortion rights, even before the most recent legislative session. North Carolina earned a C+ ranking on IWPR’s Reproductive Rights Index, which was calculated using data from before Roe v. Wade was overturned. IWPR research found 43% percent of women in North Carolina live in counties without an abortion provider. These latest abortion restrictions compound barriers that already challenged abortion care access for women in the Tar Heel State, who are also at greater risk for maternal mortality. Pregnancy-related deaths in North Carolina doubled between 2019 and 2021. While the pandemic exacerbated an existing trend, COVID-19 wasn’t the only factor, though: maternal deaths in North Carolina continued to increase at a rate higher than the national average, even as vaccines were rolled out and outbreaks tapered.
Abortion isn’t the only issue where we saw major backsliding during the legislative session: legislators in Raleigh mustered the veto override votes needed to implement bans on gender-affirming care and trans girls’ participation in female sports. Medical providers are now barred from providing hormone treatments, puberty blockers and certain surgical procedures to youth under the age of 18, even if parental consent is obtained.
This new law represents yet another attack by Conservative lawmakers on bodily autonomy, reproductive care and the freedom for individuals to make decisions in consultation with their trusted medical provider. The New England Journal of Medicine found this year that gender-affirming care improves mental health among transgender and nonbinary youth. Advocates testified that sweeping bans could have the oppositive effect on a youth community that already experiences suicidal ideation and attempts suicide at higher rates than their peers due to societal stigma and mistreatment. North Carolina’s new laws both further stigmatize and mistreat trans youth.
Under the deceptively titled Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, transgender girls and women in North Carolina are now prohibited from participating in female sports teams. Trans girls athletes will be assigned to the team that aligns with their sex assigned at birth, rather than their gender identity. The law specifically targets trans girls and women, as trans boys may still participate on boys teams. Middle and high schools, public universities and community colleges are all subject to the new restrictions, though enforcement mechanisms remain unclear. GOP supermajorities in both the House and Senate overrode Governor Cooper’s veto and the ban took immediate effect.
Also among the Governor’s overridden vetoes was a parents’ bill of rights law, which requires schools to inform parents if their child uses a different name or pronouns in school and prohibits classroom discussions on gender identity and sexuality in kindergarten through fourth grade.
The veto-proof Republican majority strong-armed an onslaught of legislative attacks against gender equity this session, a backslide that could take years of advocacy and turning political tides to reverse. Daunting legal implications and the adverse impacts on reproductive and mental health paint a grim picture for women and trans youth in North Carolina and beyond.