How to Push Abortion Out of Women’s Reach in Four Days or Less

Anna Clark

Family Research Council members convinced a New Jersey hotel to stop offering discounted room rates to women coming to the state seeking abortion care. Is cutting off assistance for lodging and travel for women seeking abortion care the best way to help or simply a low-blow to women in vulnerable circumstances?

It happened quietly and quickly.
And now, no one’s allowed to talk about it.

The story comes out of New
Jersey. There, the Cherry Hill Women’s Center provides reproductive
and gynecological health services, including abortions. It was established
in the 1970s, and is a member of the National Abortion Federation and
the National Coalition of Abortion Providers.

As part of the center’s support
services, it developed a partnership with a local hotel, the Clarion
Hotel & Conference Center, to offer out-of-town abortion patients
a discounted rate on a room.

On October 20, LifeNews, an
online anti-abortion publication, published an article that reported on
this partnership, drawing on information it received from New Jersey
Right to Life.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

"The Clarion Hotel in Cherry
Hill offers a reduced rate of $59 for a room originally priced at $109
to women staying there from out of town to get an abortion. Women need
only show a receipt from the abortion business saying an overnight stay
is necessary," according to the article.

It also indicated that the
Quality Inn in Maple Shade, NJ, had a similar arrangement with the same
women’s center.

LifeNews described how anti-abortion
groups were beginning to boycott the hotels, and urged its readership
to further protest a policy that it said was aiding those who want to
skirt parental notification laws in other states (New Jersey itself
doesn’t have a parental notification law; attempts to ban interstate travel of teens seeking abortion have never become law). LifeNews offered contact
information for the hotels so readers could address them directly, and,
presumably, articulate their distress at the policy.

Within just a couple days,
other anti-abortion groups picked up the story, and passed it to their
own email lists and membership bases. The Family Research Council, in
an email blast, wrote alarmingly of how the hotels are "profiting"
off of abortion by offering the discounted rates. It is unclear why
the FRC believes that renting rooms at less than cost to certain guests
brings the hotel a profit.

"Of course, the hotels may
honestly believe that theirs is a compassionate offer. But even with
the best of intentions, a discount like this only makes it more affordable
for young girls to cross state lines for an abortion," claimed Tony Perkins’s Washington Update, an FRC e-newsletter. "Ironically, both the Quality Inn and the Clarion are part of an umbrella
corporation called Choice Hotels International. Join us in urging the
Choice chain to choose life."

Their members did just that.
By October 24, Family Research Council passed on another e-newsletter to its base, this
time celebrating that the email/telephone protest against the policy
that spread across the larger anti-abortion community worked. The Clarion
Hotel had decided to cease offering discounted rates to patients of
the Cherry Hill Women’s Center.

From the FRC e-newsletter:

    If you don’t believe that
    a few minutes of your time can change the world, we can prove it. On
    Wednesday, the Update highlighted a story from New Jersey where two
    hotels were offering room discounts to women who could prove they had
    abortions at a nearby clinic. We encouraged you to contact the franchise
    and voice your values. Today, I’m happy to report that after just two
    days, your overwhelming response through phone calls and emails has
    resulted in an immediate change of policy.  

    Yesterday, we received a letter from the corporate office of Choice
    Hotels. It reads, "’A copy of the Washington Update (dated October
    22, 2008)… recently crossed my desk. It referenced two hotels within
    the Choice Hotels franchise system. The email message highlighted your
    organization’s concerns regarding these hotels, and I wanted to take
    this opportunity to respond to you directly as this issue has been resolved.
    The Clarion Hotel & Conference Center, upon reflection, has ended
    the practice of offering special rates to patients of the Cherry Hill
    Women’s Center… we do try to be sensitive to issues and questions
    raised when it is within our power to do so and we are happy to provide
    you with this positive update…’ Sincerely, Anne Madison, Vice President,
    Corporate Communications, Choice Hotels International, Inc."  

    We applaud Choice Hotels for moving so swiftly to correct this problem
    and congratulate all of you who took the time to be pro-active–and
    perhaps save a few lives in the process.

"The Clarion Hotel paid attention
to their local market and decided to make this change," said David
Peikin, senior director of corporate communications at Choice Hotels
International, when asked by Rewire for further comment. He
also said that CHI heard from The Quality Inn that the hotel never did
offer discounted rates to patients of the women’s center.

Peiken added that the policy
to offer or not offer a discount to women’s center patients did not
originate with CHI.

"We heard from the concerned
public and of course we passed on what we heard to (the hotels),"
Peiken said. "We offer some national rates and discounts, but the
local ones are negotiated locally."

This was as much information
as Peiken was willing to offer; he did not answer further questions.
Meanwhile, repeated phone calls to the Clarion Hotel itself resulted
in silence.

"We’re not allowed to talk
about that," said one Clarion Hotel desk clerk who did not give her

"I’m not going to answer
questions on this," said another Clarion Hotel employee who did not
give his name or title, but who was described by the desk clerk as a

"We don’t do business with
them (the Cherry Hill Women’s Center)," the Clarion manager said
before hanging up abruptly.

And so, it’s as if it never
was. The support once offered by the Clarion Hotel for patients of its
local women’s center is swiftly rescinded and silenced.

While the Family Research Council, LifeNews, and
other organizations that oppose abortion rights celebrate the change,
and the Clarion Hotel avoids it, there is no indication that they will
offer any concrete alternative to the patients of the Cherry Hill Women’s
Center who don’t have a place to stay.

It’s an especially pertinent
point. In New Jersey, 19% of counties and two metropolitan areas had
no abortion provider, according to the Guttmacher Institute. In the Northeast census region that includes New Jersey, 11% of women
traveled at least 50 miles to have an abortion, and a further three
percent traveled more than 100 miles. It’s apparent that lack of immediate
local access to abortion requires many girls and women to travel to
receive one.

New Jersey actually has a lower
rate of counties without an abortion provider than most states, including
those that border it. Eight percent of New York counties lack an abortion provider, according
to the National Women’s Law Center. Pennsylvania has a rate of 39%.
Delaware: 17%. And the Family Research Council is right about one thing: with restrictive
policies preventing teenagers and women from obtaining abortions in
states across the nation, those with higher concentrations of abortion providers and with less invasive laws are indeed more likely to attract women seeking abortion.

What’s more, the Cherry Hill
Women’s Center offers second trimester abortions and non-surgical
abortions. Both of these procedures require two-day appointments;
patients, then, must have a local place to stay overnight to enable proper medical monitoring and care. For women who don’t live in town, or who are
struggling already to pay for the abortion and their travel, discounted
lodging at local hotels is a crucial part of making the procedure accessible.

Travel and Lodging A Critical Component of Abortion Access

Stephanie Poggi is the executive
director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, a coalition of 106
funds that provide people seeking an abortion with referral, financial,
and emotional support. Many of these funds offer traveling and lodging
support, Poggi said, and with the current economic downturn, that need
is "skyrocketing."

"We’re getting tons of
calls from women who are economically disadvantaged, and there’s more
of those than ever," Poggi said. "They don’t have the gas money
to drive four hours [to the nearest clinic]. They’re laid off, or
are under the prospect of being laid off."

The financial burden on women seeking abortion is exacerbated by the
fact that only 15 states cover abortion with Medicaid, and even in those
states that do, many people aren’t able to take advantage of it. Immigrants,
for example, have to wait five years before they quality for Medicaid.

As well, Poggi added, lodging
is an added burden in states that have a 24-hour required waiting period
for abortions.

Half of the counties in Southern
and Midwestern states don’t have an abortion provider, meaning that
travel is an especially big barrier for people seeking abortions. But,
Poggi, pointed out, that doesn’t mean "safe states" with fewer
restrictive laws and a higher number of providers — states like New
Jersey — are free of burdens.

"Even states that are ‘better’
have problems with full access," Poggi said. "No state is free of

She pointed out that "women
with money will be able to travel anywhere to have an abortion if they
need it. It’s the lower-income women who are being hurt by all this."

What’s the good news then?

To fill the void and make abortions
an accessible and healthy experience for those who need them, thousands
of individuals and organizations are stepping up. NNAF groups are run
almost entirely by volunteers. Haven, for example, is a New York abortion
fund that hosts women in the homes of volunteers when they must travel
for an abortion. Other funds house women in hotels, or offer vouchers
to ease the cost. Sometimes there are discounted meals at local restaurants
available, ensuring that patients will be able to eat.

In a time of greater need and
greater scarcity, in a time when anti-abortion activists are angling
to cut off support services abruptly while offering no safe alternative,
it’s the compassionate action of the abortion funds and those individuals
who simply lend their time and care that’s making all the difference.

"The National Network of Abortion Funds last year raised
over $3 million and helped over 20,000 women," Poggi said. "Volunteers
are doing this work out of their own compassion, and the word is spreading."

Gaylon Alcaraz, executive director
of the Chicago Abortion Fund, said she too sees the need for practical
support increasing. Alcaraz
said that the fund is receiving calls from "all across Chicagoland
and Illinois, parts of Missouri and Indiana where there are no abortion
providers, people who are coming to Chicago for an abortion and definitely
need practical support for transportation and lodging."

Poggi acknowledged that a sustainable
solution requires more systemic change. She’s pleased that allies
of the NNAF are increasingly organizing around the economic barriers
to safe and accessible abortion. Until that happens, however, the funds
are needed to offer the safe alternatives that are unavailable elsewhere.

News Abortion

Leading Anti-Choice ‘Expert’ Suggests Women Turn to Crisis Pregnancy Centers to Cope With Abortion Restrictions

Ally Boguhn

Though crisis pregnancy centers often lie to women to persuade them not get an abortion, Priscilla Coleman suggested that people dealing with the additional financial and geographical barriers imposed by waiting periods turn to those organizations for help.

A leading anti-choice “expert” suggested during an interview with Rewire at the National Right to Life Convention last week that women should turn to crisis pregnancy centers to cope with the barriers to abortion care, including obstacles she helped create.

Priscilla Coleman, one of the “False Witnesses” previously featured on Rewire for her egregious falsehoods about the supposed link between abortion and mental health, said that the “scientific information” she provides in her speaking engagements and through her nonprofit, the World Expert Consortium for Abortion Research and Education (WECARE), has helped get anti-choice bills passed in states, particularly South Dakota.

Though her work has been widely discredited by the scientific and medical community, Coleman has nonetheless frequently appeared as an “expert witness” in trials and hearings. As Coleman told Rewire, she is “not a medical doctor” but has nonetheless “been really involved for ten years now with South Dakota” and its anti-choice legislation. This included the South Dakota Informed Consent Law (HB 1166), and what she deemed to be an “anti-coercion bill,” seemingly referring to HB 1217, which requires that a woman seeking an abortion wait 72 hours and visit a crisis pregnancy center prior to the abortion.

Coleman acknowledged that the anti-choice laws in the state such as the waiting period had created barriers to care, as “women have to … get a hotel, you know, or find a way back” to clinics.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

“And that’s the complaint on the other side, that it’s making access more difficult,” Coleman went on, “but as all the data out there is showing the long-term effects of abortion, spending three more days to make the decision is in the women’s best interest, no matter what side you’re on.”

When pressed to respond to those who note that anti-choice restrictions make accessing abortion more difficult, Coleman replied that she “would just say that it’s worth a three-day hotel room and … if you’re going to pay for an abortion, allow an extra couple hundred dollars … to take some time because it has lifetime implications.”

Coleman, however, struggled to account for how one might come up with that money.

“Well, they’re somehow coming up with the money for the abortion,” said Coleman. “I’m not familiar enough with fees and things, but my understanding is that most women, no matter how poor they are, still have to pay for the procedure. Is that correct?”

Though crisis pregnancy centers often lie to women to persuade them not get an abortion, Coleman suggested that those dealing with the additional financial and geographical barriers imposed by waiting periods turn to those organizations for help.

“I’m sure that if they contacted crisis pregnancy centers … women could find a place to stay for a couple of days,” said Coleman. “I’m sure that many people affiliated with those centers would be happy to house the women in their own home if there is a room for them.”

The other anti-choice law Coleman connected herself with, HB 1166, uses the same falsehoods she claims her research supports. South Dakota’s so-called informed consent law requires doctors to receive consent prior to performing an abortion, and mandates that physicians provide those seeking care with written information that, among other things, falsely claims there is a connection between abortion and both “depression and related psychological distress” and “increased risk of suicide ideation and suicide.”

Coleman “served as an expert in South Dakota” after Planned Parenthood affiliates challenged the legislation, according to WECARE’s website.

As the Guttmacher Institute explains, all states already require patients consent prior to receiving medical care, and materials provided by the states that require mandated abortion counseling often offer “information that is irrelevant or misleading.”

Commentary Abortion

It’s Time for an Abortion Renaissance

Charlotte Taft

We’ve been under attack and hanging by a thread for so long, it’s been almost impossible to create and carry out our highest vision of abortion care.

My life’s work has been to transform the conversation about abortion, so I am overcome with joy at the Supreme Court ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Abortion providers have been living under a very dark cloud since the 2010 elections, and this ruling represents a new day.

Abortion providers can finally begin to turn our attention from the idiocy and frustration of dealing with legislation whose only intention is to prevent all legal abortion. We can apply our energy and creativity fully to the work we love and the people we serve.

My work has been with independent providers who have always proudly delivered most of the abortion care in our country. It is thrilling that the Court recognized their unique contribution. In his opinion, after taking note of the $26 million facility that Planned Parenthood built in Houston, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote:

More fundamentally, in the face of no threat to women’s health, Texas seeks to force women to travel long distances to get abortions in crammed-to-capacity superfacilities. Patients seeking these services are less likely to get the kind of individualized attention, serious conversation, and emotional support that doctors at less taxed facilities may have offered.

This is a critical time to build on the burgeoning recognition that independent clinics are essential and, at their best, create a sanctuary for women. And it’s also a critical time for independent providers as a field to share, learn from, and adopt each other’s best practices while inventing bold new strategies to meet these new times. New generations expect and demand a more open and just society. Access to all kinds of health care for all people, including excellent, affordable, and state-of-the-art abortion care is an essential part of this.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

We’ve been under attack and hanging by a thread for so long—with our financial, emotional, and psychic energies drained by relentless, unconstitutional anti-abortion legislation—it’s been almost impossible to create and carry out our highest vision of abortion care.

Now that the Supreme Court has made it clear that abortion regulations must be supported by medical proof that they improve health, and that even with proof, the burdens can’t outweigh the benefits, it is time to say goodbye to the many politically motivated regulations that have been passed. These include waiting periods, medically inaccurate state-mandated counseling, bans on telemedicine, and mandated ultrasounds, along with the admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center requirements declared unconstitutional by the Court.

Clearly 20-week bans don’t pass the undue burden test, imposed by the Court under Planned Parenthood v. Casey, because they take place before viability and abortion at 20 weeks is safer than childbirth. The federal Hyde Amendment, a restriction on Medicaid coverage of abortion, obviously represents an undue burden because it places additional risk on poor women who can’t access care as early as women with resources. Whatever the benefit was to late Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) it can’t possibly outweigh that burden.

Some of these have already been rejected by the Court and, in Alabama’s case, an attorney general, in the wake of the Whole Woman’s Health ruling. Others will require the kind of bold action already planned by the Center for Reproductive Rights and other organizations. The Renaissance involves raising an even more powerful voice against these regulations, and being firm in our unwillingness to spend taxpayer dollars harming women.

I’d like to entertain the idea that we simply ignore regulations like these that impose burdens and do not improve health and safety. Of course I know that this wouldn’t be possible in many places because abortion providers don’t have much political leverage. This may just be the part of me that wants reproductive rights to warrant the many risks of civil disobedience. In my mind is the man who stood in front of moving tanks in Tiananmen Square. I am yearning for all the ways to stand in front of those tanks, both legal and extralegal.

Early abortion is a community public health service, and a Renaissance goal could be to have early abortion care accessible within one hour of every woman in the country. There are more than 3,000 fake clinics in this country, many of them supported by tax dollars. Surely we can find a way to make actual services as widely available to people who need them. Of course many areas couldn’t support a clinic, but we can find ways to create satellite or even mobile clinics using telemedicine to serve women in rural areas. We can use technology to check in with patients during medication abortions, and we can provide ways to simplify after-care and empower women to be partners with us in their care. Later abortion would be available in larger cities, just as more complex medical procedures are.

In this brave new world, we can invent new ways to involve the families and partners of our patients in abortion care when it is appropriate. This is likely to improve health outcomes and also general satisfaction. And it can increase the number of people who are grateful for and support independent abortion care providers and who are able to talk openly about abortion.

We can tailor our services to learn which women may benefit from additional time or counseling and give them what they need. And we can provide abortion services for women who own their choices. When a woman tells us that she doesn’t believe in abortion, or that it is “murder” but she has to have one, we can see that as a need for deeper counseling. If the conflict is not resolved, we may decide that it doesn’t benefit the patient, the clinic, or our society to perform an abortion on a woman who is asking the clinic to do something she doesn’t believe in.

I am aware that this last idea may be controversial. But I have spent 40 years counseling with representatives of the very small, but real, percentage of women who are in emotional turmoil after their abortions. My experience with these women and reading online “testimonies” from women who say they regret their abortions and see themselves as victimized, including the ones cited by Justice Kennedy in the Casey decision, have reinforced my belief that when a woman doesn’t own her abortion decision she will suffer and find someone to blame for it.

We can transform the conversation about abortion. As an abortion counselor I know that love is at the base of women’s choices—love for the children they already have; love for their partners; love for the potential child; and even sometimes love for themselves. It is this that the anti-abortion movement will never understand because they believe women are essentially irresponsible whores. These are the accusations protesters scream at women day after day outside abortion clinics.

Of course there are obstacles to our brave new world.

The most obvious obstacles are political. As long as more than 20 states are run by Republican supermajorities, legislatures will continue to find new ways to undermine access to abortion. The Republican Party has become an arm of the militant anti-choice movement. As with any fundamentalist sect, they constantly attack women’s rights and dignity starting with the most intimate aspects of their lives. A society’s view of abortion is closely linked to and mirrors its regard for women, so it is time to boldly assert the full humanity of women.

Anti-choice contends that there have been approximately 58,586,256 abortions in this country since 1973. That means that 58,586,256 men have been personally involved in abortion, and the friends and family members of at least 58,586,256 people having abortions have been too. So more than 180 million Americans have had a personal experience with abortion. There is no way a small cadre of bitter men with gory signs could stand up to all of them. So they have, very successfully so far, imposed and reinforced shame and stigma to keep many of that 180 million silent. Yet in the time leading up to the Whole Woman’s Health case we have seen a new opening of conversation—with thousands of women telling their personal stories—and the recognition that safe abortion is an essential and normal part of health care. If we can build on that and continue to talk openly and honestly about the most uncomfortable aspects of pregnancy and abortion, we can heal the shame and stigma that have been the most successful weapons of anti-abortion zealots.

A second obstacle is money. There are many extraordinary organizations dedicated to raising funds to assist poor women who have been betrayed by the Hyde Amendment. They can never raise enough to make up for the abandonment of the government, and that has to be fixed. However most people don’t realize that many clinics are themselves in financial distress. Most abortion providers have kept their fees ridiculously and perilously low in order to be within reach of their patients.

Consider this: In 1975 when I had my first job as an abortion counselor, an abortion within the first 12 weeks cost $150. Today an average price for the same abortion is around $550. That is an increase of less than $10 a year! Even in the 15 states that provide funding for abortion, the reimbursement to clinics is so low that providers could go out of business serving those in most need of care.

Over the years a higher percent of the women seeking abortion care are poor women, women of color, and immigrant and undocumented women largely due to the gap in sexual health education and resources. That means that a clinic can’t subsidize care through larger fees for those with more resources. While Hyde must be repealed, perhaps it is also time to invent some new approaches to funding abortion so that the fees can be sustainable.

Women are often very much on their own to find the funds needed for an abortion, and as the time goes by both the costs and the risk to them increases. Since patients bear 100 percent of the medical risk and physical experience of pregnancy, and the lioness’ share of the emotional experience, it makes sense to me that the partner involved be responsible for 100 percent of the cost of an abortion. And why not codify this into law, just as paternal responsibilities have been? Perhaps such laws, coupled with new technology to make DNA testing as quick and inexpensive as pregnancy testing, would shift the balance of responsibility so that men would be responsible for paying abortion fees, and exercise care as to when and where they release their sperm!

In spite of the millions of women who have chosen abortion through the ages, many women still feel alone. I wonder if it could make a difference if women having abortions, including those who received assistance from abortion funds, were asked to “pay it forward”—to give something in the future if they can, to help another woman? What if they also wrote a letter—not a bread-and-butter “thank you” note—but a letter of love and support to a woman connected to them by the web of this individual, intimate, yet universal experience? This certainly wouldn’t solve the economic crisis, but it could help transform some women’s experience of isolation and shame.

One in three women will have an abortion, yet many are still afraid to talk about it. Now that there is safe medication for abortion, more and more women will be accessing abortion through the internet in some DIY fashion. What if we could teach everyone how to be excellent abortion counselors—give them accurate information; teach them to listen with nonjudgmental compassion, and to help women look deeper into their own feelings and beliefs so that they can come to a sense of confidence and resolution about their decision before they have an abortion?

There are so many brilliant, caring, and amazing people who provide abortion care—and room for many more to establish new clinics where they are needed. When we turn our sights to what can be, there is no limit to what we can create.

Being frustrated and helpless is exhausting and can burn us out. So here’s a glass of champagne to being able to dream again, and to dreaming big. From my own past clinic work:

At this clinic we do sacred work
That honors women
And the circle of life and death.