In recent years, North Carolina has, as one researcher put it, “gone to town on abortion restrictions.” State lawmakers in 2013 famously reworked a bill about motorcycle safety to include several provisions intended to make it harder for abortion clinics to stay open, among other things. Although courts have overturned a number of other state restrictions—including a forced narrated ultrasound law and a previously unenforced 20-week ban—North Carolinians still face several barriers to accessing abortion care.
What North Carolina state law says about abortion:
According to the Woman’s Right to Know Act, which passed in 2011, patients must receive state-mandated information, then wait 72 hours before they can have an abortion.
That counseling, which can be done via phone or in-person, includes informing patients of (among other things):
- medical risks associated with the scheduled procedure as well as risks associated with continuing the pregnancy
- the probable gestational age of “the unborn child”
- that the “father” is liable for child support even if he's offered to pay for the abortion
- where to find contact information for clinics that offer ultrasounds free of charge
- the possibility of receiving public assistance for prenatal care, childbirth and/or neonatal care
- alternatives to abortion, including parenting the child or putting them up for adoption
Since 2016, North Carolina has also required that patients seeking an abortion undergo an ultrasound if they are more than 16 weeks pregnant. That image, along with other information such as the fetus’ measurements, must be submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Proponents of the 2016 provision say it’s necessary to ensure providers and clinics aren’t performing abortions after 20 weeks—a ban that had been codified in state law since 1973. In March, however, a federal judge struck that law down after abortion advocates filed a lawsuit. Although it had never been enforced, the state assembly had amended the law in 2015 to narrow the types of exceptions allowed—patients could only obtain abortion services after 20 weeks if their life or “a major bodily function” was at risk. State officials, however, have since appealed the decision overturning the law, and await a decision from the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Abortion care is only covered by state-provided health insurance or healthcare plans purchased through the state in cases of rape, incest, or if the patient’s life is at risk. Anyone under the age of 18 seeking an abortion must obtain a parent’s consent first.
The state also prohibits providers from performing abortions when they believe a patient’s reasons are based on sex selection.
What it’s like seeking an abortion in North Carolina
This is one woman’s story.
In 2006, Monica, whose last name has been withheld to protect her privacy, was taking a year off from college and living in her hometown when she discovered she was pregnant.
Monica already had two daughters: a 7-year-old and a 5-year-old and, at the time, she could not see herself with a third child. Plus, she’d made plans to return to college after her girls finished out the school year.
In an interview with VICE, Monica, who’s now 40 and a mom of five, shared more about her experience of getting an in-clinic abortion in North Carolina. Even though she had the procedure before the 2011 law, she still faced barriers involving finances and time. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
When did you decide to have an abortion?
Monica: Almost immediately. I wasn’t in a serious relationship with the guy I was seeing. My whole mindset was, I’m just home to recuperate [from school burnout] and then I want to go back to school this summer. I already had plans to move back on campus [with my girls] to student family housing and finish my degree.
I talked to one of my best friends. She had recently terminated a pregnancy, and knew where to go and what the process was.
My stress came from having to—my girls were in elementary school, but they were in so many activities. I remember that year they were doing violin, they had piano lessons, and they were taking dance. Every day, we were somewhere. Scheduling it while they were in school and being back in time to be able to act normal [was the toughest part]. I didn’t want my family to find out, and I didn’t want for me to start showing. I had contemplated getting [a medication abortion], but I was like I don’t have time to go home and go into miscarriage mode and be able to hide it. There was no way for me to do that.
How long did it take to get an appointment?
It was fairly quick. However, the guy didn’t support my decision. I don’t think he believed I was going to terminate because I already had two kids. I asked him to help [pay for the procedure] because it was pretty expensive, $600 or $700. My cousin was going to go with me, and I had it all figured out for that day. The guy was supposed to meet me but he could not bring himself to do it. He didn’t give me the money, and I had to cancel the appointment.
I had to convince him. He was financially stable and able to [pay for] it completely. But by the time I finally went—and this was the hardest part for me—I was 16 weeks. You’re talking about almost four months in because of the whole back and forth with the guy.
How far did you have to travel?
I went to Raleigh, so two hours one way. I was living in coastal North Carolina at the time. I didn’t get back until evening. I had to arrange for someone to pick the girls up.
What was the appointment like?
The environment was very sterile and serious. When you talked to [staff], there’s no warmth and no comfort. You don’t get smiles. It’s kind of like, ‘Take off your clothes, put this gown on, go sit in the waiting room, they’ll come and get you.’
What else do you remember about the appointment?
They tell you what they’re going to do; they explain the process [of the procedure] to you. But I couldn’t relax. I remember someone saying, ‘You cannot move, do not move, we don’t care how bad the pressure and the pain is, you can’t move. If you don’t stop, you’re going to ruin your chances of having more kids,’ or something like that.
It was very painful. As far along as I was, it may have been a different process for me. I was out of it because of the [sedatives]. The room was spinning. [I could] hear voices that seemed to be far away and then close.
Is there anything else you want to share about your experience?
I’ve replayed the whole procedure over and over [in my mind] for years. I’ve made peace with the decision that I made, but it wasn’t easy. It’s not something you’re just happy to do. I still don’t believe anybody should make a decision for anybody else, but I do like to be very honest about the whole experience. You do walk away with emotional distress.
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