Amid signs reading “My body, my choice, my right” and chants of “We won’t go back!”, supporters of reproductive rights gathered at Pack Square on Sept. 6 as a local response to Senate Bill 8, a ban in Texas on abortions of pregnancies of more than about six weeks.
The Speakout for Reproductive Freedom, organized by activist Lauren Steiner, convened about 40 people, including Sen. Julie Mayfield and Rep. Susan Fisher, who both represent Buncombe County in the General Assembly.
Texas’ SB 8 prohibits abortions after doctors detect what the bill refers to as a “fetal heartbeat.” This can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant. But as NPR and The Texas Tribune report, some experts note that heart valves do not exist in an embryo at six weeks; they say the “heartbeat” sound generated on an ultrasound at that stage is due to electrical activity.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law on May 19; the Supreme Court declined to block the law and it went into effect Sept. 1.
SB 8 does not allow an exception for abortion if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. It also enables civil lawsuits where citizens can sue anyone who performs an abortion or “aids and abets it,” including doctors, rape crisis counselors and ride share drivers. If the lawsuit is won, the plaintiff is entitled to $10,000.
Fisher said SB 8 enables citizens to act as “bounty hunters who can now … collect a reward for turning in anyone who aids someone in getting an abortion.”
Mayfield drew parallels to recent debates about bodily autonomy with regard to masking and vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We have heard a lot over the last 18 months about personal choice, individual freedoms, bodily integrity, no government mandates,” she added. “Wouldn’t it be nice if all that national conversation and all that enormous push around those topics were about reproductive freedom?”
Is North Carolina next?
Mayfield spoke to the rally about the status of reproductive rights in North Carolina. (Planned Parenthood Asheville Health Center performs abortions, among other health reproductive health care.)
The General Assembly, where both houses are controlled by Republicans, passed a bill earlier this session to restrict abortion. House Bill 453 would have required doctors to ask patients about their reason for having an abortion. It also would have prevented doctors from performing abortions if it was determined the reason was a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome or the race of the fetus.
Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed HB 453 on June 25. “[Cooper] would veto any other bill, including a Texas-style bill,” Mayfield said. “So we have that backstop.”
However, NC is beginning the redistricting process and that could change the composition of the General Assembly, Mayfield warned. “It is absolutely possible for the Republicans to draw maps that are likely to give them their veto-proof majorities again,” she said. “So we have to guard against that.”
Activists warned that the protection of existing reproductive rights does not go far enough and accessibility must be expanded.
“We are gathered here today because there is a war being raged,” said Tessa Paul, co-chair of Asheville Democratic Socialists of America. “This war against reproductive rights is a war against women, against trans and nonbinary people, against Black and brown people, against indigenous, queer, disabled, displaced and abused people.”
Several of those who gathered in Pack Square on Monday shared their own abortion stories. Some also shared stories from their mothers, which often took place before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion in the United States.
Steiner said she has terminated two pregnancies; in both cases, contraception failed. She also noted that her mother traveled to Puerto Rico for an abortion when the procedure was still illegal in the United States.
“In 1963, we went on what I thought was merely a vacation to Puerto Rico during the Christmas holiday,” Steiner recalled. “She already had two children and she didn’t want to have anymore.”
Audience member Stefany Mills came to the microphone and said she had an abortion at 22. Monday’s rally was the first time Mills had shared her abortion story in public, she said. Mills called her abortion “ultimately one of the best choices I ever made.”
Mills now has daughters and called SB 8 “so terrifying” to witness as a mother.