(RALEIGH, N.C.) — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order to strengthen access to reproductive health care in the state on Wednesday.
The order takes several steps to defend the existing services in North Carolina, including to state that patients who receive abortions or providers who perform abortions will not be penalized or criminalized for providing, receiving or inquiring about reproductive health care services.
The executive action comes almost two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, which had guaranteed the right to abortion for almost 50 years.
Cooper’s order establishes that all cabinet agencies, or those who are part of the governor’s office, “should coordinate with each other and pursue opportunities to protect people or entities who are providing, assisting, seeking or obtaining lawful reproductive health care services in North Carolina.”
It further states that cabinet agencies may not require any pregnant cabinet agency employee to travel to a state that has restrictions on access to reproductive health care that do not include exceptions favoring the health of the pregnant employee.
The order says it does not change North Carolina law, but rather ensures that North Carolina residents will continue to have a protected right to access and perform abortions, alongside other reproductive care.
As other states uphold bans on abortion, North Carolina increasingly becomes a “critical access point” for those seeking reproductive health services, according to the order.
“Research demonstrates that unnecessary restrictions and bans on reproductive health care rights have harmful consequences on people’s health, safety and economic stability…[and] disproportionately impact people of color, people with disabilities, people with low incomes and people who live in rural areas,” the order reads.
Cooper spoke at a press conference when he signed the order.
“The Supreme Court ripped away the constitutional right to reproductive freedom that women have relied on for five decades,” Cooper said Wednesday.
“For now, it’s up to the states to determine whether women get reproductive health care, and in North Carolina they still can, thanks to my veto and enough legislative votes to sustain it. I am determined to keep it that way and people need to know that their votes in state legislative races this November will determine the fate of women’s health and freedom in our state,” Cooper continued.
Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, was alongside Cooper at the signing of the executive order.
“Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, North Carolina has become an increasingly critical access point for people traveling for abortion care, including from neighboring South Carolina and Tennessee, where lawmakers in both states have swiftly banned most abortions,” Johnson said at the signing.
“Now we must continue to do everything in our power to ensure abortion remains accessible in North Carolina, both for North Carolinians and those forced to flee their own state amid mounting restrictions and cruel bans,” she added.
In a statement on Wednesday, Cooper said that North Carolina has already seen an influx of patients coming from other states to seek abortion care.
Citing data from Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, Cooper said that one third of abortion patients scheduled in North Carolina this week are from different states.
“That means there are projected to be at least 10,000 people coming to North Carolina to access reproductive health care services, mostly from states with bans and tighter restrictions. These are just numbers from Planned Parenthood, and do not include estimates from the state’s other trusted providers,” Cooper said in his statement.
Dr. Katherine Farris, chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, was quoted in the governor’s press release Wednesday.
Farris said that the highest priority of abortion providers in North Carolina is to get patients the care that they need.
“Abortion is a normal part of reproductive health care. Every person is the expert in their own life, and we must trust them to make their own decisions about their health, their family, and their future,” Farris said in the statement.
“Planned Parenthood South Atlantic health center doors remain open, and we aren’t going anywhere,” she added.
Jenny Black, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Votes! South Atlantic, said in the release that North Carolina voters need to continue to support candidates that will keep abortion legal in the state.
“For now, abortion is still legal in North Carolina. But our reproductive freedom is hanging by a thread. The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has paved the way for state lawmakers to pass an all-out ban as soon as next year,” Black said.
“The future of abortion access not only for North Carolinians but potentially the entire Southeast region is on the line in 2022, and we thank Governor Cooper for his strong advocacy in support of reproductive freedom today,” Black added.
As states have continued to uphold abortion bans across the southeast, other eastern states have signed orders similar to Cooper’s in support of abortion access.
The Democratic governors of Maine and Rhode Island both signed executive orders on Tuesday in support of abortion rights, which ensure the protection of both patients and providers of abortion.
The Republican governor of Massachusetts signed an executive order last month to protect access to abortion in the state, ensuring its legality there.
In South Carolina, abortion has been banned past six weeks. In Tennessee, abortion has also become illegal after six weeks, with no exceptions for rape and incest.
Alabama has made abortion completely illegal, with no exceptions for rape and incest.
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