It takes more than seven hours and 480 miles across three states to drive from Twin Falls, Idaho, to Yakima, Washington.
But that’s what a hotline caller to the CAIR Project, an abortion fund based in the Pacific Northwest, had to do recently to get an abortion. Twice—if you count the round trip.
She was $600 short and planned to sleep in her car. In November, when it drops to 30 degrees at night. CAIR granted her $600 and got her a room in a budget hotel.
Unfortunately, this caller’s situation isn’t uncommon. Every week, we talk with people forced to travel out of state for abortion care.
I was the volunteer fielding hotline calls that week. By Wednesday, I’d already granted out my weekly shift budget. That meant I had to tell everyone else who called that they had to reschedule. That they had to be pregnant longer than they wanted to be. That they had to make new arrangements for child care, time off work, or borrowing a car.
Scraping together enough money to pay for an abortion can be painful for our callers. That same week, I spoke with a woman who had pawned her wedding ring. On a past holiday season hotline shift, I spoke with a woman who’d had to return the Christmas gift she’d purchased for her toddler.
What cruelty is this, America?
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As a professional who’s worked in global and public health, I’m always struck by this difference: In many other countries, leaders desperately want to expand access to voluntary contraception and abortion. The only thing standing in their way is lack of resources. Here, we have the resources. We could meet the reproductive health needs of every person in this country, but our leaders choose not to.
Instead, here in the United States, we choose to punish people. Our legislators choose to set up hoop after humiliating hoop for people to jump through, just to access basic medical care.
Here are a handful of those hoops, which vary from state to state: withholding coverage of abortion care from health insurance; allowing bosses to withhold contraceptive coverage (increasing the likelihood of need for abortion); condescending waiting periods that range from a day to 72 hours; dangerous parental notification or consent requirements; gauntlets of sidewalk harassers screaming vitriol outside clinics; medically inaccurate, mandatory shame scripts written by politicians that doctors are forced to choke out before providing abortion care; predatory fake clinics; medically unnecessary ultrasounds; unconstitutional 20-week bans. And now Texas will require the costly and unnecessary cremation or burial of fetal tissue from abortion or miscarriages, despite outcry from the medical community.
As always—and as intended—these barriers hurt folks struggling to make ends meet, people of color, and youth the most. Withholding coverage of abortion care from Medicaid (done through the Hyde Amendment) is estimated to force one in four poor women seeking abortion to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. And a woman who wants to end a pregnancy but is denied is more likely to fall into poverty than one who is able to get an abortion.
Barriers to abortion access are a public health, human rights, and economic catastrophe. And they’re completely avoidable.
Yet it’s about to get worse. Way, way worse. Our president-elect believes women who have abortions should be punished if such care becomes illegal, and shrugged that they can travel to other states to get abortions. Well, I can tell you that they already do.
But abortion funds and advocates for reproductive health, rights, and justice across the nation will resist. We will organize. We already are. Reproductive justice organizations led by people of color—such as All* Above All, the National Network of Abortion Funds, and URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity—have been doing this work for years. In fact, we largely have them to thank for creating a climate supportive of abortion access, which played a big role in the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt U.S. Supreme Court decision this June striking down provisions of a Texas law designed to close clinics.
We will continue to work toward a world where all people can determine if and when to have children, and can raise children in safe and healthy environments, free from violence. As Black Lives Matter reminded us after the election, “The work will be harder, but the work is the same.”