Questionable access

Daunting barriers too often supersede the legality of abortion.

Bronwyn Miller

When we talk about abortion, our conversations are usually informed by what we consider fact in this country: that abortion has been legal since 1973. Despite conflicting moral views and political stances, we all know of Roe v. Wade and generally believe that in this country, abortion is an available option for someone who is pregnant. 

Theoretically, then, every woman should have access to an abortion, but reality paints a much different picture. Legalization proves to simply not be enough to grant abortion access to all women who want and need it.

A lack of facilities and providers, burdensome costs and anti-choice politicians’ constant attempts to implement restrictions on reproductive health care services are just a few of the obstacles women face, regardless of their alleged legal “right” to an abortion.

Legality of abortion, in fact, means quite little to countless people who face tremendous barriers to access standing in their way.

To spread awareness of the dismal state of abortion accessibility in this country, pro-choice supporters have designated September as Abortion Access Month.

Reality is that many women are required to jump through hoops of fire in order to access an abortion. In 2011 and 2012, 30 states added a total of 135 new laws limiting access to abortion, making these two years the worst for reproductive freedom since the Supreme Court’s decision in 1973.

A policy review conducted by the Guttmacher Institute revealed that the legislation passed in these two years implemented mandates like required ultrasounds, limits on health insurance coverage, longer waiting periods and restrictions on minors’ ability to obtain an abortion.  

Furthermore, when we look at the difference of experiences in seeking an abortion if a person is financially stable or living in poverty, we can clearly see that abortion rights have become an economic justice issue.

Women of strong financial means, able to handle issues like travel costs, missed wages at work or the price of childcare, can travel further distances to access abortion services, even as anti-choice legislators are forcing health clinics across the country to shut down. Even though 87 percent of counties in the U.S. do not have an abortion provider, financially stable women are still generally able to overcome this hurdle and obtain a timely abortion, which their private insurance will usually cover.

But low-income women might have to delay their procedures if forced to handle the financial hardships associated with obtaining an abortion, especially the added costs sustained by the ever-increasing scarcity of providers. For a woman struggling to make ends meet, an extra $470, or the average price of a first-trimester abortion, is unfathomable.

Moreover, abortion services become increasingly more expensive as pregnancies continue, meaning women face even more crippling costs. Thanks to the 1976 Hyde Amendment, Medicaid, the federal government program that pays for medical care for many low-income families, does not cover the cost of an abortion.

Fortunately, 17 states have stepped in to fill the void with programs like Minnesota’s Medical Assistance, which covers abortions for eligible low-income women. However, this type of state funding is the exception, not the rule, in the nationwide condition of abortion services.

Even beyond barriers related to economic disadvantages, other factors hinder a person’s fair right to an abortion. While safe abortions are becoming more and more difficult to obtain, business is booming for “crisis pregnancy centers.” In numbers that double that of legitimate abortion providers, CPCs put on the guise of offering nonjudgmental health and pregnancy services, yet attempt to coerce and intimidate pregnant women into not having abortions through tactics that have proven to be deceptive, misleading and straight-up medically and scientifically inaccurate.

Here in Minnesota, there were only nine providers conducting abortions statewide in 2012. The number of CPCs exceeds 90 statewide. Our very own backyard of the University of Minnesota is home to two, the University LifeCare Center and First Care Pregnancy Center.

With ambiguous advertisements promising free women’s health services strewn across bus stop benches across campus, these generally unlicensed, unregulated organizations prey on the fact that many young women and college students are likely to feel confused, frightened or isolated when faced with an unexpected pregnancy.

In my experience, when one calls the numbers provided in the vague advertisements, representatives evade questions about whether they in fact provide abortions and instead urge the individual to have an in-person appointment with a “counselor.” Promises of “all-options counseling” turn into scare tactic efforts aimed at preventing not only abortion but usage of modern contraceptive methods, too. 

When the reality faced by a woman seeking an abortion is assessed, Roe v. Wade and the legality of abortion feel moot. Conservative politicians would have us believing that abortions are a dime a dozen — but the truth couldn’t be more different.