Asheville – Was it a new fashion trend? It was odd that a couple of Asheville City Councilwomen were wearing pearls. Then, it became apparent that not just all of them, but City Clerk Maggie Burleson and City Manager Debra Campbell did likewise. Most peculiarly, City Attorney Brad Branham wore three strands over his suit and tie. Later in the meeting, Mayor Esther Manheimer explained that it was a statement of solidarity, at Councilwoman Sage Turner’s request, to channel the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
The occasion became evident with the reading of a proclamation entitled, “Affirmation of Fundamental Reproductive Freedom,” which is the latest euphemism for keeping abortion legal. Manheimer explained that, through no fault of the council, Councilwoman Kim Roney’s request to expedite the item came too late for it to make the published agenda.
Already, on June 25, Roney had taken to social media with calls to action. One encouraged, “Spread the word that abortion is still legal in North Carolina. Supportive, gender-inclusive language normalizes abortion as healthcare while amplifying solidarity with vulnerable people across race, class, and status experiencing disparities and harassment.”
Another urged, “Organize! Reach out to the friends and neighbors you interact with regularly and invite them to join a text or email group for rapid/emergency response. Think neighborhood, work, school, community garden, book club, etc.”
On her Facebook page, Turner invited disappointed activists to show up to a Democrat rally at Rabbit Rabbit. Manheimer was among the speakers. Other luminaries in attendance were Buncombe County Commissioner and Congressional candidate Jasmine Beach-Ferrara and State Senator Julie Mayfield. The event included a planned march to the courthouse with a presumably spontaneous spillover that shut down one lane of I-240 momentarily.
District Attorney Todd Williams went even further. He was among 83 prosecutors to sign a statement refusing to prosecute people who “seek, assist in, or provide abortions.”
Roney read the proclamation into the record before the council: “WHEREAS, the Supreme Court of the United States established in 1973 the Constitutional right to make informed, private medical decisions with the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which led to safer practices and drastically reduced the incidence of maternal deaths and hospitalizations related to abortion; and
“WHEREAS, the Supreme Court of the United States on June 24, 2022 overturned Roe v. Wade, ending the Constitutional right to abortion in the United States; and
“WHEREAS, our community is experiencing unprecedented attacks on reproductive autonomy, freedom, and justice at both the federal and state levels of government; and
“WHEREAS, the impact of abortion restrictions is predominantly realized by those who already experience disparities in healthcare, including people working to make ends meet; black, indigenous, and people of global majority; people with disabilities; immigrants of all statuses; members of the LGBTQIA+ community; and people who live in rural areas; and
“WHEREAS, healthcare is a fundamental human right; and access to gender-affirming, full-spectrum, and comprehensive reproductive healthcare, including abortion, contraception, prenatal care, labor and delivery services, and postpartum care, are necessary for overall health and wellbeing; and
“WHEREAS, the threat of prosecution as well as disparities in our criminal legal system can result in negative outcomes by intimidating people from seeking or providing care, and health providers have an ethical obligation to provide essential care to their patients;
“NOW, THEREFORE, I do hereby proclaim the affirmation of fundamental reproductive freedoms in Asheville, condemning the criminalization of accessing or providing essential healthcare, including full-spectrum reproductive and gender-affirming healthcare; and proclaiming that people deserve access to high-quality healthcare without fear of judgment, harassment, coercion, reprisal, or punishment.”
The proclamation was presented to Miss Shelly Brown, of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic. Brown described Asheville as a “proud city,” where women are treated with dignity, equality, and freedom. She said nobody should tell a woman when to have kids or how many she should have.
While the recent Supreme Court ruling said nothing about a right to “gender-affirming hormone therapy” and the other services mentioned in the proclamation, the list had a close resemblance to Planned Parenthood’s “Who We Are” webpage, just as the jargon from the protest reflected that on their activism pages. Across the country, there are fears that future decisions from a conservative Supreme Court would return discretion over other behaviors traditionally deemed high-risk or immoral to the states.
Manheimer said North Carolina is one of only two states in the South that will continue to allow abortions. Asheville, in turn, is the only place with an abortion clinic in Western North Carolina. As a result, she predicted that Asheville would attract more tourists, not just those seeking abortions, but also those seeking to protest them.
Manheimer said the council had gotten a lot of calls and emails from constituents asking what the city could do to protect the essence of Roe v. Wade. She said, to her knowledge, policing the demonstrations outside Planned Parenthood, which make people feel unsafe and operations hard to manage, is the only thing the council has the authority to do. In this way, she plugged the unpopular police department as supporting a progressive cause.
The matter resurfaced during public comment. Jonathan Wainscott suggested that the council remember their values in upcoming negotiations with the Asheville Tourists. The Tourists, he said, are demanding $30 million to upgrade their baseball field to Minor League standards, but they’re owned by the family of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. Late last year, Ohio passed legislation making it illegal to kill babies that survive an abortion and banning physicians who work in abortion facilities from also working in state-funded medical facilities.