There has been much attention recently on the North Carolina General Assembly’s attempts to pass legislation (most notably Senate Bill 353) that would severely restrict access to abortion in the state. Much of that attention has focused on the underhanded process used to ram this bill through the legislature, as well as the groundswell of protest, especially from women, this legislation generated. And yes, nearly 600 women showing up at the Legislative Building on 12 hours notice does indicate that something has struck a chord with women. But it’s not so much a new chord as the final straw.
If you have been listening to women across the state, you know that they have been bringing their voices to this General Assembly for months, since the start of the session. We at North Carolina Women United held our Women’s Advocacy Day this past April, before the worst of the reproductive health restrictions had been introduced. Yet we still had such a long list of legislative concerns that it could hardly fit onto one page.
With women now nearly 40 percent of the state’s family breadwinners, we’ve long been concerned with North Carolina’s persistently high unemployment rate, and expanding work-family policies and ensuring pay equity. We protested the cuts to unemployment insurance, knowing that more than half of the long-term unemployed in the state are women. And with 44 percent of North Carolina households headed by single women living at or below the poverty level, we asked state leaders to extend the Earned Income Tax Credit as a tool to lift those families up.
When we realized nearly 200,000 more women could receive health insurance at no cost to the state if North Carolina expanded Medicaid, we petitioned lawmakers to do it. To ensure women across the state had better access to a full range of birthing options, we advocated for licensing Certified Professional Midwives.
We sent letters and made calls to ensure the Domestic Violence Commission and its vital funding for resources and support services was maintained. We testified at hearings against restrictions on voting, realizing women are disproportionately affected by restrictive voter ID requirements (not to mention the potential time that may be required to vote if early voting is cut back substantially, as women are still more likely to have caregiver duties at home).
We advocated for more funding of public education, quality child care programs and vital government services as we followed the debate on the budget and tax reform. We’ve formed coalitions, started our own advocacy groups, and challenged our friends to get involved. And as was shouted from the stage at the July 15, 2013, “Unite for Women” Moral Monday rally, women have been on the front lines of these civil disobedience demonstrations from the very beginning, as part of the first groups to face arrest for entering our State’s legislative chambers.
After months of having our voices disregarded and our experiences dismissed, the deliberately stealthy introduction of anti-abortion bills confirmed for us that our very persons were being disrespected as well. By introducing legislation that can cause harm to women in the most personal way with little opportunity – or, it seems, desire – for our input, months of frustration culminated in this outpouring of visible anger.
But make no mistake, the outrage being heard from women across this state in recent weeks isn’t because women finally started paying attention to what was going on at the General Assembly; those voices were there all along. Instead more people finally paid attention to our protests, which had simply become too loud to ignore. And our dissenting voices will remain loud, and grow louder still, until our voices get the respect they deserve.
We have a vision of full political, social and economic equality for all women across North Carolina. We know women have contributed so much to make this state great, and we know their potential to create a vision for this state as we move forward through these difficult times. We believe North Carolina women deserve better, and we will continue North Carolina Women United’s mission of bringing women’s voices to the policy table.
Tara Romano is President of North Carolina Women United.