HEALTH AND LIFE TAKING A BACKSEAT TO POLITICS IN NC ABORTION POLICY: What did North Carolinians learn late on Wednesday when federal judge William Osteen Jr. allowed enforcement of the state’s ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy? They learned that health and life are not the most important matters to House Speaker Tim Moore and state Senate Leader Phil Berger. To Republicans Berger and Moore it is all about politics, the fall elections and their machinations to gain a veto-proof majority in the General Assembly. In reacting to Osteen’s unsurprising ruling, Moore mainly attacked Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, who appropriately recused himself from personal involvement in the matter after stating he opposed the previously unconstitutional state law. Berger, similarly took up a partisan cudgel. “Democrats’ position on abortion can only be characterized as extreme,” he said. Yet, if Berger and Moore are looking for extreme positions on abortion, they need look no further than legislation their fellow Republicans have introduced, which is still pending in the General Assembly and that they’ve not renounced. Republicans want the State Constitution (House Bill -158) to declare life starts “at the moment” of fertilization. Anyone who willfully tries or destroys a life is accountable for attempted murder. Is that what Moore and Berger want? Do they back legislation (House Bill 31) banning abortions after a “detectable” fetal heartbeat? Are these the “protection for the unborn” that Moore and Berger are promoting? We won't get any solid answers to such questions until after the November Election, because Republicans fear "informed" voters more than anything else.
JOSH STEIN: KEEP YOUR CHILDREN SAFE ONLINE: As our children go back to school, there’s nothing more important than keeping them safe whether in person or online. Technology and internet access offer new avenues for students to learn and engage in the classroom, but our increasingly online environment poses risks for children’s mental health and safety. The internet exposes kids to dangers like bullying, identity theft, scams, or exploitation. Before school starts, make sure to have conversations with your kids about how to stay safe online. It’s critical that children know the dangers of sharing financial or personal information, clicking on untrustworthy links, or communicating online with people they don’t know. Ask your child to tell you when things happen online that make them feel nervous or uncomfortable. Make sure they understand that they won’t be punished if they share these experiences with you. If children know the risks and can communicate them with an adult, they can steer clear of trouble online or get help when they need it. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) probably has free parental control tools. Download or activate them to help control what your child has access to on the internet. Parents may also want to download additional apps to help control their kids’ interactions online. Age-appropriate search engines can ensure kids don’t accidentally encounter inappropriate content on the internet. When seeking additional parental control software, look for recommendations from independent reviewers. While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended children spend no more than one or two hours on screen per day, surveys show that kids between age 8 and 12 spend an average of more than five hours on screens each day. Too much screen time can affect kids’ mental and physical health. Consider using apps to track and limit your child’s screen time. While the internet and technology offer opportunities for kids to learn and be entertained, it is critical to keep them safe. Being proactive and talking about internet safety can help reduce the risks of engaging online. That last part is critical. Having difficult discussions with your children cannot be solved or replaced by an app on their device, they need to know *why* they should be careful. Because the older they get, the farther they are away from direct parental control, and "shielding" them from some information will do them no favors.
THANKS TO MIDDLE-SCHOOLERS LIKE ME, THERE ARE NO MORE SALEM "WITCHES": I was a 13-year-old student at North Andover Middle School in 2021 when my mission to clear Johnson’s name started. When my fellow students and I discovered this horrible injustice against Johnson (or E.J.J., as we came to know her), we knew we had to do whatever we could to correct the record. Along the way, we learned about legal processes and our rights as citizens, about why history matters, and, most importantly, about how to give a voice to someone without one — whether in the past, present or future. We started by writing letters to the committee, but our bill was “sent to study,” which stalled it from moving forward. Despite the setback, we kept fighting for E.J.J.: We were determined to either get a pardon from Gov. Charlie Baker (R), or to get an exonerating amendment passed through the state budget bill. So we wrote more letters and made more phone calls to bring awareness to Johnson’s story. Eventually, with the help of DiZoglio and a handful of other senators, our amendment made it into the budget bill. It was passed and then signed by Baker last month. Finally, E.J.J. had found justice. Some might wonder how exonerating a woman who lived three centuries ago has anything to do with today. But I was taught that we study history to understand our past mistakes. Like many of the other people accused of witchcraft, Johnson was vulnerable because she was a woman, single and an outcast in her community. Sound familiar? We find ourselves again living in a time when women’s rights are challenged and when people who are seen as different face persecution. What inspired me most about this project, though, is that we did more than just study history: We corrected a past wrong by advocating for E.J.J.’s exoneration when she could not do it herself. We gave power to a person who never had a voice of her own. As someone who cares about equal rights for everyone, I hope that absolving Johnson will be a reminder that it is unjust to use a person’s social class, marriage standing, gender or any other identity or trait to deny them their rights. And lifting up E.J.J.’s example will be just the start of me and my peers’ work toward a society where all voices can be heard. Good job, Sarina. This gives me hope for our future.
STROM THURMOND BLOCKED ME FROM RENTING A HOME: At 18, I was sentenced to 10 years in prison for dealing drugs. Twenty-five years later, as a Princeton-educated nonprofit leader and entrepreneur, I thought that part of my past was far behind me. I had a rude awakening last year when my application to rent a home was denied after a background check. My prospective landlord exercised their legal right to discriminate against me for my prior conviction. That is because the Fair Housing Act — which since 1968 has banned discriminatory housing practices, such as redlining, that kept Black people and others out of White neighborhoods — expressly permits denial of housing to those who have been convicted of drug manufacture or distribution. That exception was added to the act in 1988, as part of an amendment package aimed at protecting people with disabilities. It was proposed by South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond — a longtime segregationist who had voted against the original act. “One offense is sufficient for a landlord to refuse to rent to a drug dealer,” he said. “It is that simple.” Thurmond’s amendment passed by voice vote. And it reinstituted, by stealth, a form of neo-redlining. Under the pretext of penalizing those convicted of drug distribution (but not those convicted of any other offenses, including homicide), he had achieved virtually the same end as racist practices before: keeping minorities out of certain neighborhoods. Since Thurmond’s amendment passed, millions of people have gone to prison for drug offenses. Tens of millions more have convictions but did not serve time. Black Americans bear the brunt of this; a 2016 study calculated that they were almost three times as likely to be arrested and more than six times as likely to be sent to prison for drug-related offenses as White people. While the consequences for me and my family are frustrating, they are devastating for millions of others who cannot access quality housing and the personal, professional and educational opportunities that go along with it. It traps those trying to “make good” after time behind bars in untenable and risky situations. This needs to be fixed, along with a whole lot of other institutional barriers to rehabilitation.
POST-ROE, THE HUMAN TRAGEDIES MOUNT: The human toll of denying abortion to people who want or need one can be, and often is, appalling. The state legislatures racing to impose sweeping abortion bans, enabled by the conservative Supreme Court majority that overturned Roe v. Wade in June, have done so despite abundant research on the devastating impact these policies have on Americans’ well-being and livelihoods. Now more evidence is emerging of the suffering they are already causing — for real women, real girls, real families and real lives. In Louisiana, a woman whose fetus cannot survive outside the womb — it is missing the top of its skull, a fatal condition known as acrania — is now barred from ending her pregnancy in the state. “It’s hard, knowing that I’m carrying it to bury it, you know what I’m saying?” Nancy Davis told local news outlet WAFB-9. The state’s draconian new antiabortion law, which took effect automatically after the Supreme Court overturned Roe, allows for some exceptions in rare cases, including to prevent death or devastating injury to the woman and if a pregnancy is “medically futile.” But acrania is not among the conditions that qualifies for an exception, according to a Louisiana Department of Health list. And doctors said other potentially deadly afflictions are also not listed. Even though the health department said its list of exceptions is a work in progress and would be updated, it’s not clear that will happen in time for Ms. Davis. She is roughly 12 weeks pregnant and cares for three children at home, including a toddler. If Louisiana refuses an abortion, she would need to drive to Florida or another state to undergo the procedure, a trip that would be costly and time-consuming. Other examples have emerged of the misery that harsh antiabortion laws, enabled by the court, are causing, and many more will continue to make headlines. Granted, similarly heart-wrenching cases were common enough even before the court’s decision, given the preexisting legal hurdles in some states. A 16-year-old girl in Florida is currently blocked from terminating her pregnancy by a judge’s determination that she is “not sufficiently mature” to do so — even though she has the consent of her legal guardian for the procedure to go ahead. That inane ruling — in the case of a girl recently traumatized by a friend’s death, and by her plausible account unready to care for a child — was also possible before Roe was overturned. A landmark study by the University of California at San Francisco found that people unable to have abortions suffer from long-lasting economic struggles, including greater probability of eviction and bankruptcy, and of struggling to provide food, housing and transportation. They are also more prone to physical and mental health problems, and are more likely to end up raising a child alone. Bolding mine, because rulings like that defy logic. That judge needs to be removed from the bench, before more of these cases come before her (that's right), and the appeals court that upheld that needs to be admonished. Grrr.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
AMBER GAVIN: STOP TARGETING THOSE OF US WHO WORK AT ABORTION CLINICS: As a staff member at a N.C. abortion clinic, my colleagues and I have long dealt with harassment and violence — from protesters posting our private information online, to vitriol directed at us as we come to work, to threats communicated to us and our families. This kind of harassment is an occupational hazard for providing legal, necessary and compassionate care to our patients. In recent years it has escalated nationwide. This year, Knoxville, Tenn. clinic was burned to the ground and a man in Michigan was recently charged with setting fire to another clinic. Protesters have brought guns outside our clinics, and we are all too aware of providers who’ve been murdered for this work. We know our job comes with these dangers, but we continue this work because we are committed to our patients. Patients and staff deserve better than to have to walk a gauntlet of harassment when seeking and providing healthcare. We know more than most what it’s like to be targeted and demonized because of our work. We don’t wish that on anyone, and hope that even those who don’t agree with our work extend that same sentiment to us. The 1st Amendment was enacted to allow citizens to seek redress from government, not to allow them to harass and intimidate fellow citizens. And it most certainly wasn't enacted to allow a select few to force their morality onto others.
DOUG BYRD: I HAVE SERIOUS CONCERNS ABOUT TED BUDD: One of my concerns is who he plans to represent. North Carolina is clearly a purple state with 35.5% of voters registered as Democrat, 34% registered independent and 30.5% registered Republican. When you look at his political ads and listen to what he is saying, you can clearly see who he is courting. You can clearly see who he plans to represent as senator. We should expect a senator who will represent and help all North Carolinians and not just a small percentage. Another concern is his actions during the 2020 elections. His actions show he has an aversion for our system of government, a system whereby the people vote for their government representatives — not government officials choosing who gets to be in office. In 2020, he signed a brief brought on by the Texas attorney general that attempted to decertify elections in Georgia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, even though the elections in these states were legitimate. If this was successful (which, thankfully, it was not), it would have thrown out millions of votes in these states and disenfranchised millions of voters. We all know who influenced him to sign the brief and why these certain states were chosen. On Jan. 6, 2021, just a few hours after the violent insurrection took place at the Capitol, Budd, along with other Republican colleagues, voted to overturn the election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania (and more states if they had the opportunity). This charade was put to an end and the legitimate results were finally certified. Our constitutional republic/democracy was founded on the idea that the people choose who they want to represent them in government. Budd’s actions indicate he has other beliefs. If he loses this fall, I wonder if he will take the same dead-end road as the former president did and cry foul. Budd has proven himself to be an enemy of democracy who holds voters in contempt, but those voters have a horrifically short memory. They will need to be constantly reminded of his actions for it to stick.
LOLITA WATSON: NIMBY-ISM STRIKES AGAIN OVER PROPOSED DRUG REHAB CENTER: It was with great sadness that I read about the Robeson County Board of Commissioners’ recent vote NOT to rezone property in Parkton for a much needed narcotic treatment facility. The need for such a facility in the area is obvious. With the number of deaths and addiction cases on the rise – according to most recent statistics, a 40 percent increase in deaths related to opioids in 2020 with 70 of those in Robeson County alone – the need for treatment is obvious. If you’re being honest, almost every resident in this county knows someone that has a problem with opioids. It may be painfully obvious, or maybe you just wonder what’s up with your neighbor that they have to keep taking so many pills – those folks are out there, they’re among us and they need help. Government officials are spending a lot of time and money making plans to address that need but let’s face it, it will take everyone’s efforts, even a simple thing like allowing a treatment facility to be built in your community. We all say we hate this drug situation. Not only does it bring death to the abusers, it encourages violence, as some of those addicts resort to violence to get what they need. Remember the cliché: it takes a village, folks. I, for one, pray for the success of programs like Hope Alive and those families it could help. I have first-hand experience with this issue, and I can tell you one of the biggest challenges is finding a facility with beds available, especially ones that are less than 100 miles away. Lives are lost because of this, so before you complain about the quality of your neighborhood deteriorating, take some time to think.