This North Carolina woman's struggle for abortion access has been fuelled by three abortions


This North Carolina woman's struggle for abortion access has been fuelled by three abortions

She only wanted one abortion. Her life was saved by yet another abortion. A third — not hers — was a family secret that still irritates her.

Now that those services are in jeopardy, she can't help but reflect on how each of those abortions impacted her life, and how much work she'll have to do to keep them legal in North Carolina.

Shealy described it as both weird and predictable. Her adolescent self assumed that abortion was commonplace. However, she is dubious that her daughter will have the same abortion rights as she and her mother did after a decade of political turmoil.

She observed as the United States Supreme Court added more and more conservative justices decades after those abortions and after moving to North Carolina. She decided to join Planned Parenthood as a philanthropy director in 2013 after seeing future generations of women face greater barriers to abortion access.

Charlotte was able to open a new clinic in 2019 because of Shealy's work with Planned Parenthood South Atlantic (PPSA), a multi-million dollar structure funded largely via her own fundraising. For the first time in years, her colleagues were able to perform abortions in Queen City thanks to the new clinic in the Cherry neighbourhood.

She retired soon after the new clinic opened, but she insists that her work isn't finished.


Shealy had her first abortion when she was 19 years old. In 1977, she was a freshly single college sophomore in upstate New York who had no qualms about terminating an unwanted pregnancy.

Shealy stated, "There was no hesitancy."

She knew she'd have an abortion as soon as she found out she was pregnant, never hesitating to make the decision. When her partner found out about the pregnancy, he broke up with her; she was desperate to continue her design lessons, but couldn't see how she could do so while pregnant. Roe v. Wade had been in effect for four years at that point. Her mother and older sister had marched for abortion rights in downtown Buffalo, New York, in the years preceding up to the landmark Supreme Court decision. Shealy said she was too young to join them at 15, but as a high school student, she went to Planned Parenthood to learn about birth control alternatives.

The most difficult part of seeking an abortion, according to Shealy, was paying for the appointment and driving two hours to the nearest clinic, which was just across the Vermont border. Her classmates banded together to provide the funds, and a friend skipped class to chauffeur her. She was back in class the next day.

The procedure went off without a hitch. She finished her studies, received her degree, and a decade later, she was a successful textile designer in Manhattan, carving out a life for herself and dating a gorgeous coworker.


She took that coworker as her date to a friend's wedding on Martha's Vineyard over Memorial Day weekend in the late 1980s. Shealy began bleeding on the way back. She insisted on going to work the next morning, despite the fact that she had no idea she was pregnant in the first place before the haemorrhaging prompted her to run to the doctor and then the hospital.

Shealy claims she doesn't recall anything from that day, but her now-husband does. She was aware and recuperating hours later after an emergency dilatation and curettage treatment that had saved her life. They discovered she'd had an ectopic pregnancy, which had burst and nearly bled her dry.

Doctors are still unable to save such cases in which the embryo implants in the fallopian tube rather than the uterus. They usually kill the parent if left untreated. Because the foetus is not viable and it is required to save the parent's life, activists question whether the practise should be called an abortion. Shealy refers to her treatment as an abortion.

Marcie and Torrence had no idea what she was expecting. She thinks she was about two months pregnant in retrospect.

Shealy spent a week in the hospital, where she was nursed back to health by her soon-to-be-serious boyfriend.

"I believe that's when we went from casually dating to in love, or at least that's when I was," Torrence Shealy said. "We said this could've — and it did — revolutionised our life, so it took it from being a terrific relationship to something different."


The couple married and moved to Charlotte within a few years. Shealy became pregnant with twins a few years later, eager to become a mother, and gave birth to Grace and Trevor in 1996.

She was a tireless advocate for reproductive health, particularly when it came to her children.

Moments that embarrassed them as children, such as Shealy showering their peers with condom assortments as graduation party gifts, are now proof of her love for them, according to Shealy.

Shealy, on the other hand, dislikes taking chances. It's why she had her first abortion, and why, rather than risking cancer spreading, she had a double mastectomy in 2010.

That's why, when President Obama made health-care reform a centrepiece of his campaign, she left her job as a designer to help.


Shealy has always been political, but it was health care access that prompted her to take action, she said.

The problem has been crucial to Shealy’s family, in which several women had been diagnosed with the breast cancer that killed her big sister in the 1980s, she added.

Shealy realised she'd need a new outlet for her new fundraising experience as Obama won a second term in 2012. The twins were approaching maturity, and the Affordable Care Act had been in operation for more than two years.

Shealy assumed she was unqualified when friends suggested she apply for PPSA's philanthropy director post, but she decided to give it a shot. She began working in January 2013 and would not quit until 2020.

Shealy described the uncomplicated manner in which she had obtained her abortions as a privilege in and of itself. North Carolina has established rules requiring mandated ultrasounds and waiting periods three decades after her first abortion. Abortions were more difficult to obtain in North Carolina after Roe v. Wade was decided.

Shealy stated, "(Abortion) is a medical treatment." "It's health care," says the narrator.


Joyce Siegel expressed her pride when Shealy informed her mother that she had taken the position at PPSA. She then revealed a secret to her.

Shealy was born decades after her older sister and two brothers in the Siegel family. On the revenues from her father's family business and her mother's teaching pay, they lived well but not extravagantly.

But, according to Shealy, the Siegels couldn't afford a fifth kid.

Joyce Siegel, desperate for an abortion in the 1950s, saw only one safe option: having doctors deem her mentally incompetent so that an abortion could be performed.

Shealy described it as a humiliating experience that her mother never spoke in public for fear of embarrassing her husband. Shealy wants people to know what abortion access was like before both members of the marriage died – Joyce died in September 2020, and her husband, Marvin, died a year later.

"That one, my mother's, gave me everything," Shealy explained. "Then I had two abortions, one of which transformed my life and the other of which saved my life."


While Shealy has left PPSA, its new leaders say the building she helped to fund will be a lifeline as they prepare for life beyond Roe v. Wade. They expect the new building, which is near the border of states with harsher abortion laws and a short drive from a busy airport, to be a destination for local and out-of-state patients seeking abortions.

Planned Parenthood claims it hasn't kept track of how many abortions have been conducted in the new clinic, but Black claims Shealy is responsible for each of the 13,510 patients who have visited the centre for reproductive appointments since it opened in 2019.

The Charlotte team couldn't conduct abortions until three years ago because the old clinic building didn't match North Carolina's regulations for providing abortions, such as elevators that couldn't support stretchers.

"With her energy and passion, she was like a hummingbird — and always in heels, looking great," PPSA President Jenny Black remarked. To court benefactors, Shealy zipped up her Mini Cooper. According to PPSA philanthropy director Nikki Harris, the majority of her financing comes from local donors, which is unusual for clinics.

Shealy hasn't been to the clinic since he retired. She wants to provide space for the new team to plan, which, according to Black, has included a focus on efficient visits and expanded scheduling above any building alterations.

Shealy's normal morning routine of calling senators to weigh in on potential legislation was disrupted by a recent trip to see family in New York. However, an email concerning a medical care bill this week jolted her back into action.

She said she'll keep marching and fundraising, but will concentrate on voting problems. For the time being, it means continuing to attend pro-abortion marches and demonstrations, as well as advocating for judges and politicians who she believes will oppose future abortion restrictions in North Carolina.

"I have no idea what we're going to do," Shealy admitted. "However, we are going to do it."

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