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Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

On abortion, North Carolina lawmakers look everywhere but the present

It’s the faintest of praise, I guess, to say that North Carolina’s new abortion law is not quite as harmful to women as the ones in other states.

North Carolina’s new law, which goes into effect July 1, bans most abortions after 12 weeks — down from 20 weeks under current law. The new law also requires more medical visits and more paperwork in an effort to force delays on a woman’s decision.

This looks positively progressive compared to the 12 states that have basically banned abortion completely since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last June. Several other states, including South Carolina, have been blocked for now from enacting their own restrictions. But in much of America, conservatives have built a time machine that has taken us back to 1972, before Roe v. Wade first protected a woman’s right to choose.

(Just as an aside, the top marginal tax rate was 70% in 1972, compared with 37% now. Maybe we should turn back the clock on that one, too.)

If you run the numbers you can get a better sense of what the new abortion law will mean.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2020 there were about 30,000 legal abortions in North Carolina. The CDC estimates that a little more than 90%of abortions occur within the first 13 weeks. If you put those figures together — and again, these are rough estimates — you end up with about 3,000 abortions a year in our state that were legal at 20 weeks but are now illegal at 12 weeks.

The other useful number, at least to me, is viability — the point at which a fetus could survive on its own. Most medical estimates put that at 23 to 24 weeks. Less than 1% of abortions happen past that point.

So here’s what you end up with in North Carolina: Roughly 3,000 women a year who cannot end a pregnancy as of July 1 that they could have on June 30.

Among those 3,000 women are surely teenagers who gave in to a brief moment of passion without protection. Women in desperate poverty who can’t afford a child. Women trapped in abusive relationships. Women who might risk their lives for an off-the-books abortion. Women who must now face consequences that nobody else has to face — not the men in their lives and not the legislators who passed the laws.

It will alter every one of those women’s lives and undoubtedly ruin some.

I know some people against abortion see it as simply protecting the lives of unborn children. But it is far from simple. And what our legislators have done is drag us into the past to preserve the future while ignoring the damage they are doing in the here and now.

Tommy Tomlinson has hosted the podcast SouthBound for WFAE since 2017. He also does a commentary, On My Mind, which airs every Monday.