As a wire coat hanger swung from Senator Thom Goolsby’s locked door at his downtown law office on Monday, July 22nd, protestors waved and chanted, “Never forget!” They wanted to remind passersby of a time when self-administered and illegal abortions were often the only option for women seeking to end a pregnancy.
Together, women and men stood against Senator Goolsby’s recent backing of Senate Bill 353, as well as House Bill 695. The bills carry measures to essentially limit access to abortions by disqualifying many clinics, such as Planned Parenthood, from performing them.
Women Organizing for Wilmington (WOW) led the helm during another Monday protest. Thom Goolsby was not in the audience.
Supporters of the bills reason the measures as protection for women’s rights. They’re shrouded in the “prevention” of dangerous practices; often cited as an example is Kermit Gosnell’s clinic in Pennsylvania, which closed earlier this year. The doctor was convicted of first-degree murder.
Brandie Stork Temple, a former medical assistant with Planned Parenthood in Wilmington, called the bills nothing less than an offense to medical assistants, nurses, clinicians, and OB-GYN practitioners who provide reproductive health services, which include but are not limited to abortions.
While the new pieces of legislation were a big part of why Temple joined WOW protestors, she and others have been disappointed with the apparent contempt in Goolsby’s dialogue against his constituents. His derogatory Moral Monday editorial published in The Chatham Journal, as well as his website statements about the current protests at his office, have kept the protests hotly attended, with anywhere from 50 to 100 at his doorstep weekly.
“One truly wonders if any of the protestors even bothered to look at the legislation before beginning their marches,” Goolsby wrote in a statement posted on July 17th at www.thomgoolsby.com. “If they had spent more time reading the bill, rather that printing up angry protest signs, the abortion advocates would have saved a lot of wasted energy.”
However, Temple and others have read the bills; they even carry copies. Still, they are not convinced of the positive impact to women’s health or safety, especially when other avenues, such as education and healthcare funding, have been consistently foregone.
“Aside from sneaking these new regulations into an unrelated motorcycle safety bill, the fact that the [NC General Assembly] has made no attempt to properly fund the Department of Health and Human Services. . . shows this has nothing to do with improving healthcare for North Carolinians,” Temple said.
House Bill 695 and Senate Bill 353, which also increases penalties for unsafe drivers “that threaten the property and safety of motorcyclists,” comprise a range of changes to abortion laws. Those changes include, but are not limited to, an amendment to the Women’s Right to Know Act, limited abortion coverage under health insurance plans “offered through a health insurance exchange or local governments,” as well as amended rules to determine clinics suitable to perform abortions and regulate them at the same standards as outpatient surgical centers.
“The implication is that providers and clinics [that] provide abortion services are offering substandard care—that abortion providers in North Carolina are not following the laws already in place,” Temple further explained. “The reality is healthcare professionals who provide abortion services care deeply about their patients, both their safety and their ability to make the best, most informed choices.”
Counter-protestor Carla Frenzel stood amongst the passionate and driven WOW marchers on Monday, July 22nd, but not with them. She said that this was not an issue of a woman’s right but one of an unborn child’s.
“I’ve never had children, I’ve never had an abortion,” Frenzel explained. “Truthfully, I support a bill that would get rid of all abortions . . . I think the reaction would be that women would be more responsible in their activities.”
Though Frenzel had no comment on education or contraceptive services that public clinics provide with funding, she spoke with WOW founder Amy Shlag on the issue.
Despite their disparate beliefs, Shlag believes they could find common ground with which to work together, a long-term goal she has in mind for WOW.
“Abortion isn’t an easy topic,” Shlag said. “[Frenzel] is a woman, and we need to support each other [and] she has as much right to her opinion as we do.”
After volunteering with Coastal Horizons Center, which provides crisis intervention services for women, Shlag saw firsthand the depth of underfunded programs like Planned Parenthood, Carousel Center and the Domestic Violence Shelter and Services.
“In knowing and working with them, I founded WOW to help create connections between the women doing the work at those places, as most of the people working there are women largely servicing women,” she said. “At the heart of all these issues are women . . . but the tipping point was when New Hanover County Commissioners voted ‘no’ [to the state grant for Planned Parenthood last year],” she explained.
Wilmington and North Carolina made national headlines in March 2012 when the county turned down monies which would help women and men with family-planning needs, including physician’s consultations, examinations, and contraceptive supplies, to name a few. After a backlash, commissioners took another vote to allow the funding to be collected.
However, the comments by commissioners during the first vote were what garnered a great deal of negative attention. Some remarks reflected a true disconnect from public health needs and services for women.
“If these young women were responsible people and didn’t have the sex to begin with, we wouldn’t be in this situation,” former commissioner and chairman Ted Davis, who now serves as a House representative, said.
Now, Senator Goolsby is getting similar reactions. “He shows a general disdain for his constituents,” Shlag said. “There’s not a sense of responsiveness, and I think this is happening nationally.”
Shlag doesn’t want the services of Planned Parenthood and other public healthcare providers damaged by massive text legislation or bills without debate, which is why she seeks open, honest dialogue with our senator and other representatives. “If you want to bring it to the forefront . . . and you want to put these things out there and talk about them, that’s fine, but they’re not doing it,” she concluded.
Aside from abortion rights, there are myriad policy decisions that have brought people together for WOW and Moral Monday protests. Issues abound from deep cuts in unemployment benefits to new voting restrictions, which require ID at the polls (discounting student and other forms of photo identification, plus shortening early voting by a week and ending same-day voter registration). Not all came by Senator Goolsby’s leadership, but by a Republican-led majority that doesn’t represent many North Carolinians.
“It’s not so much about Goolsby,” WOW member Elli Klein said. “It’s about what’s happening in our town, in our state and in our country. He’s just an example of what’s occurring, and he happens to be here, but we’re talking about real attacks on our families, on our homes, on our bodies, on what’s basic, and he’s supposed to represent us.”
Women Organizing for Wilmington’s mission is to advance progressive political causes and build a stronger community of men and women for important issues in New Hanover County. The group of more than 300 currently organizes through their Facebook page, where events, meetings and other updates are posted. A website coming soon.
As of Thursday, July 25th the Senate and House gave final approval to the abortion and voting measures that are now going to Governor Pat McCrory. WOW will continue to gather at Goolsby’s office, as well as travel to Raleigh during Moral Monday protests.
Senator Goolsby could not be reached for comment on this story.