It’s becoming increasingly clear that the numerous new abortion restrictions nationwide are heading to the Supreme Court eventually. When and how that will happen is still up in the air, but as the recent machinations around the new slate of abortion restrictions in Texas show, the Court will almost surely be deciding whether or not it’s OK for states to use red tape to regulate legal abortion out of existence. In other words, the Supreme Court is eventually going to have to ask if abortion can still be considered a “right” even if it’s only a right on paper but not in reality.
Considering some of the more tortured rationales that the Roberts Court has come up with to justify reactionary opinions, it’s not unwise of the anti-choice movement to think that this is their time to get a Supreme Court decision that guts protections for the right to abortion. Which doesn’t mean that all hope is lost by any means! The Court could very well decide that it’s too ridiculous by half to claim women still have a right to abortion if the state does everything in its power to keep women from exercising that right. Unfortunately, however, we also have to prepare for the possibility that the Court will accept the ridiculous claims from anti-choicers that it’s not an assault on a woman’s right to choose to make one of those choices—legal abortion—impossible to get.
We’re already getting a major taste of what life in this country will be like if the Supreme Court grants the right to states to regulate abortion out of existence. In Virginia, a regulatory scheme pushed by Republican leaders in that state has already led to a number of clinic closings, though with Terry McAuliffe’s win last week, the tide might be turning. Ohio is also seeing a rash of clinics closing, because of similar restrictions. And after the Fifth Circuit agreed to let Texas start enforcing a regulation requiring abortion doctors to have hospital admitting privileges, a bunch of clinics in that state had to cancel people’s abortion appointments, often without being able to offer them anywhere else to go. If the Supreme Court upholds the Fifth Circuit’s decision, many of these clinics will have to close down permanently.
The situation has given us a small inkling of what it will be like in a country that allows abortion to be a right only in name but not in actuality: A country where some parts have plenty of abortion providers and some parts have none. What that country looks like is one where whether or not you have your full human rights depends on your income and your geography. It’s a country where women are routinely shut off from climbing their way out of poverty by forced childbirth when they personally have decided they cannot afford it. It’s a country where even your basic ability to be healthy and bear healthy children depends on where you live and how much money you have. A lot of these trends are already well underway, but once abortion clinics in red states are gone, it’s going to get much, much worse.
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Let’s be clear about one thing. Even if the Supreme Court lets states ban abortion without banning it outright, there will still be abortions for some women in this country. On the West Coast, states are actually striving to make abortion access safer and more accessible. California liberalized its abortion laws to let qualified professionals who aren’t doctors perform abortions. Advocates in New York are pushing to secure abortion rights in that state, but even if that doesn’t happen, New York is likely safe. For women in these states, access is more secure.
That also means that for women in red states who have the means to travel, abortion access is also secure. Already we’re seeing an uptick, on an anecdotal level, of women crossing state lines to get abortion. As clinics close in Ohio, women go to Michigan. Maryland is seeing women from Virginia and Pennsylvania, as anti-choice crackdowns happen in those states. But for women who can’t afford to travel out of state, forced childbirth is becoming an unavoidable reality. Now that Texas is shutting down clinics and women have to drive six, seven, or eight hours to the nearest clinic, even more women are being shut off from abortion access.
If the Supreme Court rules the way anti-choicers want, then for huge portions of the country, the only way to get an abortion will be to book a flight on short notice—which usually means the ticket price is double or even triple what a plane ticket usually costs—pay for a hotel, and book an appointment out of state. The cost of an early abortion, which can be as low as $90 if you get a medication abortion, will now run into the thousands. In other words, it’s not an option at all for most women seeking abortion, who are more likely than the average woman to survive on low incomes.
The abortion war is about sex and gender roles, absolutely. But it’s also about class. Anti-choicers want to make someone suffer for their belief that sex is only for procreation, but they know better than to infringe on the rights of the wealthy and the powerful to have all the sex they want without having grossly unfair consequences for it. So, to be blunt, they make poor people pay. Poor women are easy to pick on, because they don’t have the political clout or money to fight back. As this fight drags on, never forget that this is about kicking poor women while they’re down. Wealthier women will endure more hassle, but low-income women are the ones who are losing their reproductive rights altogether.