It’s clear that abortion access is now different in Western North Carolina. Less than two months after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson that abortion is not a right under the Constitution, a federal judge on Aug. 17 allowed enforcement of an existing North Carolina law that bans abortion after 20 weeks except for medical emergencies.
Prior to this move, abortion was legal in the state up until the point when fetal viability is reached. This is usually 24-28 weeks after the start of the pregnancy. According to the Guttmacher Institute data, which is a national nonprofit focusing on sexual and reproduction health, 31850 pregnancies were ended in North Carolina in 2020. This represents a 9% increase over the 29,320 abortions that occurred the year before.
(Per 2019 data, the most recent available, from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Reproductive Health, the vast majority of North Carolina abortions were performed before the end of the first trimester. Of the state’s remaining abortions, 7.6% were performed at 14-20 weeks’ gestation, and 0.1% were performed at 21 weeks or later.)
WNC retains abortion access through Planned Parenthood’s Asheville Health Center, the region’s sole provider of the procedure. What is less clear, at least at this moment, is how restrictions on abortion will impact the area’s child welfare system.
A possible consequence of making it more difficult for women to get abortions is the increased dependency on social services like foster care. “We know that, across the country and in North Carolina, the safety net is stretched thin, and it is not able to provide sufficient care to those in need,” wrote Elizabeth NashIn a statement, he stated that he is the principal policy associate for state issues at Guttmacher Institute. Xpress. “And we anticipate that the need will increase as states ban abortion and force people to continue pregnancies to term.”
It is difficult to find quantitative estimates of the increased demand. Xpress was unable to find a predictive model for anticipated new births in North Carolina as a result of abortion restrictions, with both national nonprofits and local health officials saying they hadn’t conducted or come across that analysis.
“Planning for increased need [in foster care] is not happening at the local level,” says Stacey WoodBuncombe County Department Of Health and Human Service spokesperson.
Meanwhile, the spokesperson for N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Bailey Pennington Allison acknowledged the issue, noting that, “Over time, it is likely that restrictions on access to reproductive health services will result in more children in foster care and more children in need of adoption.” She declined further comment in a followup email asking if NCDHHS is planning for that “likely” scenario, or how it is doing so.
A licensed clinical social worker, who offers therapy to Henderson County foster children and their families, believes that the child welfare system is likely to be challenged based on his personal experience. “My gut feeling — and obviously there’s no research to back this up because it’s so new — is that our [child welfare] system is already severely overtaxed and is going to be even more overtaxed” due to abortion restrictions, Allison Becker Tells Xpress.
Becker is researching foster care nationwide, but with a focus in WNC, for Northcentral University’s Doctorate of Marriage and Family Therapy program. “There are so many kids in foster care, and then now we’re forcing people who don’t want children or can’t care for children to have them anyway,” she says. “That just seems to me like a recipe for more foster kids.”
Research does exist on other aspects of how having a child due to a lack of abortion access can impact an individual’s life. The 2020 Turnaway Study, published by the University of California San Fransisco, examined 1,000 women who were seeking abortion; those who were turned away and went on to give birth “experienced an increase in household poverty lasting at least four years relative to those who received an abortion.”
Study also showed that women are more likely to have to pay for essential living expenses, such as food and housing, after they are denied an abortion.
‘Not enough spaces’
According to federal Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System data, North Carolina had 11.213 youths living in foster care as of 2021. The ImprintThe nonprofit news site devoted to child welfare is. That’s a roughly 30% increase from a decade prior, when the state had 8,601 children in care; the rate far outpaces the approximately 9.5% increase in overall state population over the same period.
According to Wood, BCDHHS, Buncombe County’s average foster care caseload was 321 children during fiscal year 2021-22. On average, 11 children enter foster care each month and on average 12 leave. Over that same period, the county had an on-average of 86 foster families.
Xpress We were unable to confirm whether adoption agencies or local foster care are anticipating an increase.
Martin Peters Eckerd Connects is a Florida-based non-profit that works with CARING For Children in Asheville to train and recruit foster parents. Eckerd Connects declined to comment. Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte runs an agency for adoption that serves Buncombe, and other WNC counties. They did not respond to our request for comment.
However, the BCDHHS website regarding fostering indicates that more foster families are needed. “In Buncombe County, there are many children in care, but not enough people to help care for them,” the website reads. “This means that children could be placed in group homes, away from their siblings or sent out of the county, far from everyone and everything they know.”
Becker, Henderson County’s social worker, agrees. “There are not enough spaces available to house all of the children that need to be housed,” she says. This could lead to more children being placed at group homes, such as the Black Mountain Home.
To become a foster parent, individuals must take 30 hours of required state training in trauma-informed care “or an equivalent training and assessment process,” according to the NCDHHS Division of Social Services in Child Welfare. Interviews, criminal background checks, and home visits are all required.
BCDHHS assists individuals in becoming licensed.
‘Their biggest cheerleader’
One local organization that has already experienced an impact from the Dobbs decision is Mountain Area Pregnancy Services, a Christian ministry with offices in Waynesville and Asheville that serves “women and families experiencing an unplanned pregnancy or a pregnancy with a life-limiting diagnosis to honor their baby’s life.”
Executive Director Kristi Brown estimates MAPS’ locations have received five additional calls each week since the June 24 Dobbs decision. She also notes that not all calls lead to appointments. She also notes that there are more calls from out-of-state.
MAPS also experienced an increase in foot traffic during the summer. MAPS typically serves 300 clients each year, including women and men. Brown says that in June, MAPS served 30 clients across both of its locations, and in July — after abortion restrictions went into effect in other states — the two locations served 56 clients.
MAPS is not licensed to provide prenatal care. Brown states that it does provide free ultrasounds. And the organization will provide baby-related items, like pacifiers, diapers, nursing pillows or playpens to individuals who earn “points” as they complete parenting classes.
The center’s medical director, who has a private practice elsewhere, receives ultrasound scans over email, explains Brown. Clients at MAPS are typically four-eight weeks pregnant, uninsured, earning less than $15,000 per year and “not excited, for the most part” about the pregnancy, Brown says.
Brown explains that MAPS parenting programs include Bible studies and encouragement to get connected with church congregations for support. “One way she can get support is to be part of a church body of people,” Brown says of those coming to the organization with pregnancies. “We’re trying to work to connect clients with a church body of people, so that she’s got a built-in army around her.”
Brown states that MAPS clients are often without other supportive people in their lives. “We are often their biggest cheerleader, and we have to be,” she says.
MAPS counselors will outline three options to a woman with confirmed pregnancy: carrying the baby to term, parenting, adoption or abortion. (One of its programs, Brown explains, is called “abortion recovery” and counsels women who feel guilt or sadness over past abortions.) The center can refer to obstetricians who accept Medicaid, as well as many others.
Brown states that the center can also point expectant mothers or new parents to resources like the Baby Equipment And Resources Closet. MAPS will ask its donors for funds for car seats and strollers. (In a joint news release July 1, Republican State Senator. Chuck Edwards Reps. Tim Moffitt Jake Johnson Announced $550,000 funding for MAPS and $500,000 for Open Arms Pregnancy Center Hendersonville, which is also a faith-based ministry.
MAPS does NOT license adoptive or foster families. But staff does receive annual training on state laws regarding adoption and refers to agencies, such as Christian Adoption Services, a ministry of Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina, says Brown.
Brown says MAPS is not able to predict what will happen months or years later with women they have seen. “I would say, traditionally speaking, a lot of our clients don’t keep in touch after the baby has come,” Brown says. “They might pop in occasionally or send a Christmas card. … We don’t always know the final outcome.”