Featured photo: On Thursday morning, members of the Winston-Salem Democratic Socialists of America held a press conference demanding that Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill and Democratic candidate Denise Hartsfield pledge to not prosecute abortion patients or providers in the future. (screenshot)

On Thursday morning, about a dozen people gathered outside of the Forsyth County Courthouse to demand that local elected officials pledge to protect abortion access in the county in the event that North Carolina outlaw it in the future.

The Winston-Salem Democratic Socialists of America told TCB that they’ve been emailing and messaging both Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill, a Republican, and Democratic DA candidate Denise Hartsfield, to ask that they publicly announce their support for abortion rights.

“We are organizing to demand that our district attorney candidates pledge to not prosecute abortion if it ever becomes criminalized in North Carolina,” said Tara Rose, co-chair of the local group. “We’ve seen other district attorneys and district attorney candidates from around North Carolina make a similar pledge and we feel that our local candidates should also pledge.”

In May, Guilford County District Attorney Avery Crump, a Democrat, who won her re-election bid against opponent Brenton Boyce, told TCB that she would not prosecute patients if they were to seek abortions in the future.

“With the possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned, as a woman and mother I reaffirm my stance on a woman’s fundamental right to make decisions related to her reproductive health,” Crump said. “It is her choice. As an experienced prosecutor, I have worked closely with victims of rape and incest and witnessed the consequences of this violation on their bodies. I will not seek to prosecute or revictimize women and children for accessing needed medical care.”

So far, the Winston-Salem group said that they have not heard back from either O’Neill or Hartsfield on the issue.

“We believe that abortion is health care and health care is a human right,” Rose said. “We need to get ahead of the bans that are happening across the country as a result of Roe v. Wade being overturned. We know that the right wing has the same plans for North Carolina that they have in other states, and we need to make sure that we protect everyone’s rights.”

In 2021, conservative members of the state legislature drafted multiple bills that would have banned or restricted access to abortion. To date, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed all of the bills. Lawmakers have also passed bills that fund anti-abortion clinics known as crisis pregnancy centers like the Pregnancy Network in Greensboro and Salem Pregnancy Center in Winston-Salem.

On July 6, Gov. Cooper signed Executive Order 263 that helps protect North Carolina doctors and nurses and their patients.

According to the document, it “directs Cabinet agencies to coordinate to protect reproductive health care services in North Carolina. As a result of this Order, Cabinet agencies cannot require a pregnant state employee to travel to a state where there are not protections for the health of the pregnant person. It directs the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to work with law enforcement to ensure enforcement of a state law that prohibits anyone from blocking access to a health care facility. The Order also provides protections against extradition for those seeking or providing reproductive health care services in North Carolina and prohibits Cabinet agencies from cooperating in investigations initiated by other states into anyone obtaining or providing reproductive health care that is legal North Carolina. This Order will help make sure patients get the care they need in North Carolina.”

Still, local activists want more assurance from elected officials that they’ll do what it takes to protect reproductive rights.

Carla Catalan Day

One candidate running for office, Carla Catalan Day, the Democratic candidate for NC House seat 74, said during Thursday’s press conference that she would do whatever it took to protect abortion rights if she is elected in November.

“Real family values mean that working families should be able to choose when to have a child,” Day said. “Most women, most mothers that get an abortion already have two or three children. They have carried life; they have given life. For me, as a Catholic for choice, only that person knows what’s at stake. That is a very, very complex decision that only that person can make.”

According to the Guttmacher Institute, data collected from 2008 to 2014 on abortion patients showed that 59 percent had had a previous birth. The data also found that 75 percent were from low-income households.

Rose, one of the organizers of Thursday’s event, shared her personal abortion story during her speech.

“My situation was very average, like the vast majority of people who seek abortions…I got pregnant by accident,” Rose shared. “I was neither economically or emotionally prepared to carry a pregnancy to term. In that situation, having an abortion was the most obvious and best choice I could make. Though I did not think twice about this choice, I thought for a long time that I had to keep it secret. I worried about being judged, until one day I realized that fear of judgement and stigma were directly connected to the war on reproductive healthcare that the far right has been waging for decades.

“In hindsight, it is absolutely absurd that anyone could tell me that the life I’ve built, the relationships that I’ve nurtured, the life choices that brought me to this wonderful community, and the flesh and blood family I have now are less important than a pregnancy I terminated 23 years ago,” she continued.

In reality, many people seek abortions for many different reasons. In 2021, TCB talked to several women who had gotten abortions and shared their stories.

Now, activists are continuing to push local officials to protect people’s rights to access reproductive healthcare. The group has collected more than 600 signatures for their petition and plan on organizing future events like the one on Thursday.

“The will of the people won’t stand for these endless attacks,” Rose said. “Voters in Kansas made that loud and clear this week. It is time to show our elected leaders in North Carolina and here in Forsyth County that the people are going to fight back just as hard.”

Triad City Beat did not hear back from O’Neill or Hartsfield in time for this article.

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