When the Dobbs decision came down last June, overturning nearly 50 years of legal precedent and taking away a previously established right, our partners in the LGBTQ+ community were standing shoulder to shoulder with us to protest the ruling. Together, we mourned this loss and braced for the intense and escalating backlash against bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom that we knew would build in the wake of this unjust ruling.
We did not have to wait long. After a 2022 election in which North Carolina voters were told by pundits, pollsters, and plenty of candidates that we could not possibly care about both abortion access and gas prices, the 2023 North Carolina legislative session has been a case study in so-called “culture war” issues.
After ramming through the most consequential health policy change in our state in years — the monster abortion bill SB20 — in just two weeks’ time, the same anti-abortion lawmakers in the General Assembly have turned their considerable efforts to pushing through harmful anti-LGBTQ+ bills, particularly bills designed to erase and silence trans youth (HB 808, SB 49, and HB 574).
It’s striking, although disheartening, to hear the same disingenuous and medically inaccurate arguments put forth by those supporting both the anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ+ bills. We hear — on repeat — inflammatory and often false, stereotypical narratives designed to confuse and scare people who may not know much about what are often deeply personal issues. Soundbites are created that stigmatize the people being attacked by these bills, in an effort to silence people from sharing their personal, and often relatable, stories from their own lives.
Then we are fed misleading statistics and junk science that run counter to the information presented by professional medical associations, medical studies, and sometimes even our own experiences. Medical professionals who speak out as providers are targeted as “manipulative” and “greedy,” when in reality, they are often harassed and attacked for providing compassionate care their patients need. We see the promotion of anecdotal stories in which nuances and complexities are often removed in an effort to push a simplistic narrative. Finally, we also witness the targeting and shaming of people, particularly young people, who have grown up more willing to push back against the rigid gender norms that underlie these policies.
We also see these similarities in the tactics used by supporters of anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ+ agendas. We are seeing escalating, and sometimes armed, protests at abortion clinics, drag shows, and Pride events. We are witnessing renewed attempts to deny all young people the support and access to activities and education they need to thrive at school, which follows on years of efforts to keep our youth from learning life-saving sex education.
All of this is happening as we watch the increasingly extremist, spiteful, and cruel laws being introduced and passed, here and across the country — policies that call for kids to be taken away from their parents if they support their children’s nonconforming gender identity, or laws that allow abusive partners to sue their spouses for getting an abortion, or even calling for the death penalty for people who self-manage an abortion.
Many of us who care about abortion access and LGBTQ+ rights know that our issues are intricately linked. The restrictions on our access to the full range of sexual and reproductive healthcare and information, the intimidation used against us for making our own decisions about our own bodies, futures, and lives, along with the attempts to shame and denigrate our choices are all rooted in a commitment to upholding a rigid social hierarchy that privileges and enriches the few on the backs of the many.
Whether lawmakers see restricting abortion and LGBTQ+ rights as a top priority or are cynically using these issues to gain political power, these attacks against our right to bodily autonomy serve to uphold racist, sexist, and classist structures in our society, demanding conformity to strict gender roles and allegiance to rigid and unbending worldviews. There may be moral or populist terms mixed in with these arguments, but the foundation of our struggle is based in the desire of the powerful to control the lives of those with less.
We know that criminalizing abortion will not stop people from seeking out abortion, just like we know trying to erase queer and trans people won’t make them go away. Instead of promoting false and inflammatory narratives scapegoating vulnerable populations in order to win elections, we need our elected leaders to focus on providing the care, support, and resources so all of our state’s residents can thrive.
In the leadup to the 2022 election, we heard a lot of voters and elected officials talking about issues like the cost of living, jobs, and access to healthcare as top priorities. Those issues — along with things like affordable housing, increased wages, affordable childcare, and better funding for public schools — are still top priorities for many North Carolinians. Unfortunately, these priorities have clearly been laid to the side by the political right in favor of a manipulative and fear-based culture war agenda its leaders hope will allow them to consolidate power prior in 2024. North Carolinians deserve much better.
Tara Romano is the executive director of Pro-Choice North Carolina.
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