A woman’s choice is being threatened

Photo courtesy: Olivier Douliery

Roe v. Wade provided hope to women around the country and provided a step forward bodily autonomy. However, in the last decade, legislation with the goal of dismantling what that case gave to women has become more frequent and more crippling. Now women are faced with an impossible problem: What do you do if access to healthcare is taken from you?

Legislation in Republican-controlled states has aimed to limit or take away access to abortion care. Florida, Oklahoma, Georgia, Texas, Idaho and others have passed bills similar in language, all criminalizing in some way those who get an abortion as early as six weeks after conceiving or those who perform the procedure. This means many clinics that have offered the procedure run the risk of facing criminal charges, in some cases, if they continue.

“The expected impact of closing clinics, of making abortion difficult to access, is huge. I think that the reality is that a lot of times we talk about a woman’s right to choose, and abortion is often framed as a choice. But from a reproductive justice framework, that’s not enough,” Seyi Amosu, a licensed psychologist in Atlanta, said. “Reproductive justice is like the ability to decide about family planning, decide if you want to have children, but also parent the children that you have in safe communities.”

“The question isn’t about choice. It’s about access, because for many people the choice is irrelevant because they have no access,” she added.

For many women, not having that access can be detrimental. Haylie Grammer, an adjunct professor at Dallas College in Dallas, Texas, had a late-term abortion in 2016. When she was 20 weeks pregnant, doctors found a tumor “invading her body both externally and internally,” Grammer said in a blog post. After countless check-ups and seeing doctors in different states, she was told her child would not make it.

The state of Texas allows abortion after 20 weeks if the pregnancy is life threatening to the mother or of the fetus has abnormalities, but after 27 weeks you cannot. So, at 25 weeks, Grammer made the decision to deliver early, knowing that she would be letting go of her baby.

However, before she could even do the heartbreaking procedure, Texas law made her go through a tumultuous experience. Her doctor had to apply for permission to perform the C-section and Grammer had to sign documents requesting an abortion, during an already traumatic experience. Her doctor was also required to give her a pamphlet published by the State of Texas about the “consequences of abortion,” detailing how she would suffer from depression and anxiety for the rest of her life and possibly become infertile.

Grammer believes that if this happened today, it would have been so much harder in an already difficult situation.

“If this situation were to happen to me today in the state of Texas, it would be impossible to get the medical care I needed,” Grammer said. “I would have to leave the state of Texas in order to get the care needed.”

Grammer is one of many women around the country who have had to jump through hoops in order to have an abortion. Erika Christensen is the co-director of Patient Forward, an organization that helps people get access to abortions throughout pregnancy, had to get an abortion herself five years ago.

“I was living in New York with my husband and was well into a complicated pregnancy when I learned from my doctors that the situation was much worse than they had originally thought,” Christensen said. “By the time they had enough information to tell that my pregnancy would not result in a baby I could take home from the hospital, I had crossed the point that abortion care is available in New York.”

She had to travel to Colorado, where her doctor had sent women before. This had to be done quickly, which came with high costs. Plane tickets, hotel and a rental car were all booked, and after paying for that and the actual procedure, she had to pay $10,000 out of pocket. Her mom had to take money out of her 401k just to be able to afford it.

“Most people don’t have that kind of money so at the time we felt lucky to be able to do all of that but also furious that we had to do it. I should have been able to concentrate on myself and on getting through a medical crisis safely and the grief that came with losing my pregnancy. Instead, I had to feel the weight of state-sanctioned shame and stigma and understand the restrictions on abortion care are passed by people who have no f-cking idea what they are talking about. I’m still furious,” Christensen said.

In 2014, 90% of U.S. counties did not have a clinic that provided abortions. Six states only had one clinic and more than a third of the people seeking an abortion must travel more than 25 miles to reach a facility. These numbers, although jarring, will only worsen as states attack these clinics and demonize those who seek abortions. The stigma surrounding it is unfair to those women who make a choice for themselves, for their body.

“It becomes a complicated form of mourning because most people grieve by themselves,” Amosu said. “Whereas with other grieving activities, we have funerals, we talk to people, other people console us and comfort us. For many people, if they feel a lot of stigma about having an abortion, then they feel like if they do feel grief, it has to be a secret.”

Chistensen believes strongly that the stigma surrounding abortion is harmful. Abortion is a “human right” and should not be mandated by the government or state that believes it has an “illegitimate claim to a potential fetal life.” She feels real fear for those who have to face criminal charges for simply making a choice.

“This moment requires mass civil disobedience and I hope we’re up for it,” Christensen said.