By Lindsay Turpin
Today, March 10th, is National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers. It's also Women's History Month. Naturally, it's the perfect time to reflect on why the right to choose and have access to reproductive care must vehemently protected, especially after a troubling year where this care has been repeatedly revoked or threatened throughout the United States.
I remember feeling a collective energy of fear and shock when there was a leak that the United States Supreme Court might overturn such a pivotal win for women in America, Roe v. Wade. Reproductive rights have allowed many of us to control the trajectory of our lives and pursue education and careers. People need abortions for a multitude of reasons at differing stages of their lives - and this step stripped an essential freedom from women, trans, and non-binary people in need of reproductive care in many states.
Fortunately, in California, we're lucky to live in a state that is adamant about protecting this right. Even just this week, Governor Newsom announced California will cease to conduct business with Walgreens after they refused to distribute the abortion pill in 20 states. Voters of California also protected abortion access in the constitution when we voted for Proposition 1 in November 2022. Our rights to abortion and contraceptives have been cemented, thanks to progressive government that understands the necessities of health care.
Sadly, this is not the case everywhere in the United States. Although the Supreme Court Dobbs decision did not represent majority opinion in the U.S. (64% of Americans believe abortion should be legal), it has set off a cascade of new endeavors by conservatives to rob people of the right to choose. Too often we look at the news and find out that a new piece of legislation has been passed in Texas or some other state that is extremely harmful to women, especially those who are low-income or women of color, and trans or non-binary people, in their ability to direct the course of their own lives.
These tireless legislative efforts were infuriating enough to begin with, but seemed to have reached new scales now that abortion is no longer federally legal. In Texas, for example, recent abortion bans have attacked the medical practice from every angle: limiting the performance of abortion or helping others through the procedure, and even threatening life imprisonment for violations. Medical professionals are inhibited from providing comprehensive advice to patients about what their options are, alluding in vague terms that they could travel to another state for the procedure.
Beyond the simple bans, legislation is reaching disturbing levels of violation of women’s rights. Of course, abortion is not even allowed after incest or rape in Texas, as of August 2022. There are also new bills being proposed that would charge someone with a felony for helping someone to pay for an out-of-state abortion, and blocking websites that provide information on how to obtain that medical care.
According to The New York Times, full abortion bans have been issued in Idaho, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Abortion is banned after six weeks in Georgia, and after 15, 18, or 20 weeks in Utah, Arizona, North Carolina, and Florida.
However, the good news is that attempts to ban have been blocked in Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, Iowa, Indiana, and Ohio. Though the Dobbs decision did give power to many states to restrict abortion rights more severely, we can see that justice prevails in some regions. Of course, best of all, the right was reinforced and protected in Washington, Oregon, California, Negada, Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Maine, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland.
Advocating for abortion rights and women’s reproductive rights requires awareness of all the ways in which these health care needs may be attacked. Legislators have drafted and passed a variety of harmful limits that threaten a safe abortion experience, which have been enumerated by the Guttmacher Institute. Beyond bans enacted based on the week in pregnancy, lawmakers have produced specific requirements for location (must take place in a hospital in 19 states), number of physicians (requiring the presence of a second physician), source of funding (33 states prohibit state funds for most abortions), coverage on private insurance (not allowing it), state mandated counseling, waiting periods, and parental involvement.
Each of these restrictions augments the trauma of the situation for many women, trans, or non-binary people seeking reproductive care. Yes, this choice should be allowed, and it’s hard enough on its own without having medical professionals try to influence you. Waiting periods torment those seeking abortions because they often desperately want the pregnancy to be over and can’t stand the anticipation any longer. Not only are they dealing with a situation they do not want that would fundamentally change their life, it's likely giving them extremely uncomfortable symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, heightened emotions, fatigue, and more. State mandated counseling is another harmful measure - of course there are emotions to process in terms of this choice, but they should not be a requirement constructed out of the hopes that it would change minds. However, those seeking abortions should have access to therapy or counseling if they want it. Gestational limits are another hurtful choice - many don’t even know they are pregnant until after 6 weeks, around when symptoms might start to show up.
On top of all of these restrictions where abortion is partially legal, it’s even more detrimental to people seeking abortions when they have to travel to another state to receive the care. This is one of the reasons why anti-abortion legislation is so harmful to low-income people. If they cannot afford to go out of state, they may resort to extremely unsafe abortion methods or be forced to have the child. Even though the abortion pill can be shipped by mail, attempts to curb that right are in play, which is incredibly disheartening.
For all of the above reasons, advocacy for abortion rights is important now more than ever. Activists have restrategized ways to keep this movement alive and protect those living in restrictive states who deserve access to this care.
Many advocates have argued that telling personal stories helps the public to understand what it feels like to go through the process of having an abortion. There are a multitude of aspects that complicate each situation: affordability, knowing where to go, having support from a partner, family, or friends, receiving enough information to know what to expect from the procedure, the process of making the decision itself, and the aftermath, whether someone feels emotional or not. Post-abortion, since it’s been painted as a controversial topic, people often have to grapple with how they actually feel versus how different sides of society want them to feel, and maybe even deal with guilt for knowing it was the right decision. There are infinite situations and stories that arise for each person who has an abortion. Hearing about individual experiences helps us to understand this.
Stories also show how helpful this choice can be in the trajectory of someone’s life. Oftentimes, without the ability to make this decision, people would be unable to make it through college or continue working to pursue the career they want, and be left with little money to support a child. This is about empowering those who can get pregnant to pursue potential beyond motherhood, and to be able to go down that path at a time that is best for them and their child.
Activism has developed to include “abortion doulas” who will help individuals to get abortions by raising money, driving them to clinics, and aiding them in aftercare. This level of care is also essential for trans and non-binary people as they face substantial discrimination in an already difficult scenario. During the abortion process, trans or non-binary people are frequently denied care completely, or asked insensitive questions, harassed, or treated disrespectfully due to their gender identity. The rate for attempts to end pregnancies in unsafe ways is three times higher for trans and non-binary folks than for women. For these reasons, the pro-choice movement cannot forget to advocate for everyone who requires abortions, not just women.
Another piece of the puzzle is providing access to birth control and other contraceptives when they are limited. Utilization of these resources, as well as campaigns for education on reproductive health, will aid people in decreasing risk of pregnancy. Additionally, for those who choose to go through with having children, the process must be made easier through the reduction of childcare costs, better parental leave, and the improvement of healthcare affordability in general. Giving birth and raising a child is an extreme financial commitment that people should not be forced to go through with after a mistake that is too easy to make.
Pro-choice advocates are in for a long fight to restore proper health care options for people throughout the United States. There is an avalanche of sexist and harmful legislation to be fought, but there is some hope in the states that have resisted abortion bans and those who have bolstered the fundamental right. The abortion pill is and can hopefully continue to be a life-saving resource for those who cannot afford to travel far for this medical care.
On the smaller scale, education is key, about access to abortion and other reproductive health resources. If you are close to someone who is going through this challenge, be sure to provide support for them as needed. Whether through talking it out, bringing snacks, helping with research, or just being there, having support makes what is often an isolating experience much more bearable.
Where to Access Abortion Care: https://www.abortionfinder.org/
Where to Order Abortion Pills: https://www.plancpills.org/
Local Abortion Funds: https://abortionfunds.org/funds/
Miscarriage and Abortion Hotline: https://www.mahotline.org/
Confidential Legal Support for Abortions: https://www.ifwhenhow.org/repro-legal-helpline/