Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Blog for Choice: there's no right without access

Let's talk about a great big elephant in the room before folks start celebrating the decreased need for abortion: access. From the Chicago Tribune article:

Bill Beckman, director of the Illinois Right to Life Committee, said he sees the national decline in abortion numbers as a victory for anti-abortion efforts."A number of states over the last five or six years have enhanced their pro-life laws, such as requirements for informed consent and parental notice," said Beckman. "When those laws take effect, the rate of abortion drops. I think the data they're getting is reflecting that change."

What Beckman calls an 'enhancement', I call 'building a financial box around women to make sure they're forced to give birth.'

Clinics offering abortion services are in a decline all over the country; in fact, since 2000, 77 clinics have closed and only 29 have opened. For some women in urban areas - with private doctors and access to a wide range of family planning options - access might not be such a hardship (yes, I know there are other circumstances that could slow down access to abortion in urban areas, like cash, but let's just deal with this.)
But for women in rural areas, travel could mean driving up to 50 miles to get to the nearest abortion provider. To get there and back, that woman would most likely have to schedule time off work taken as a sick day (perhaps an unpaid sick day and perhaps more than one day, particularly if that state requires a nonsensical 'waiting' period), loss of wages, perhaps arrangement of childcare for her other children (which adds to that woman's economic burden), increased travel expenses (i.e., gas) and just the physically wearying fact that she is driving to another county or state for a doctor's appointment.

I don't know about you, but I get pissed off if I have to go outside of my area code to see my ob/gyn, much less another state. And what does it cost me? A walk down the street from my office for a few blocks or, at most, a $7 cab ride if I take a cab from my house.

It is an undue hardship for a woman in downstate Illinois, or another rural area, to take two days off work for her abortion. Roadblocks to access basically put a woman needing an abortion between the proverbial financial rock and hard place. It's neat how the anti-choice folks have cut off a woman's reproductive rights from other realities in her life, like the economic ones. For them what's important is the unborn child; nevermind that there is a material cost to a woman's life if she has a child her life can't support (for whatever reason that it can't.)

In this next election there are some things to think about, the most important of which will be deciding which candidate will be able to ensure women have access to full reproductive health services. A lot of my friends are comfortable that Roe v. Wade will stand, but can we rely on that? Speaking with a lawyer friend tonight, she said that Roe v. Wade is probably one vote short of being knocked over in our forseeable future. We can also probably anticipate 2-3 Supreme Court vacancies in the immediate future. Which Presidential candidate will have the best chance to appoint Supreme Court justices willing to uphold Roe v. Wade? Can we safely rely on a Huckabee, a Romney, an Edwards or an Obama to act in women's best interests? Or can we only rely on a Clinton?

And action on the SCOTUS isn't the only thing to worry about. At the state level, over the past decade, states have become more aggressive in introducing legislation to limit, if not outright ban, access to abortion; states like Kansas, Missouri, The Dakotas, Wyoming, Utah, Iowa, Colorado, Mississippi, Kentucky, West Virginia, South Carolina and Arkansas either already have, or are in the process of introducing, some of the most restrictive laws to affect a woman's right to control her own fertility. States aren't backing away from this fight; anti-choice grassroots lobbying has proven most effective at this level, while we scramble to keep a fricking clinic open in Aurora. (You can check out the states with the least access to abortion at the Abortion Acess Project website here.)

And what will happen in Illinois if our next governor is Republican? (Not so inconceivable, considering how Blago is alienating absolutely everyone these days.) Will the women of Illinois still enjoy access to birth control without the interference of pharmacists? Will we be able to rely on timely access of Plan B birth control? Will we be able to rely on the shrinking number of clinics that offer a wide range of reproductive health services to women? Or will we suddenly have to familiarize ourselves with the days of the underground Jane network, like back in the day? Will we find our family planning needs taking a back seat to a man's outdated, patriarchal ideas of female sexuality and autonomy? Will we suddenly find ourselves planning group trips to Canada or New York or California for a simple doctor's appointment?

The right to control our fertility does not exist if we do not have access to the services that allow us to control our fertility. Access isn't just for the women who have good medical benefits and live in a city and can rattle off where the nearest Planned Parenthood clinic is; it's for women who make barely minimum wage and live in places like Bloomington, Alton or Aurora and there's no one around to help them.

And that's what the issue of access means to me: helping women get over the situation they find themselves in, not making them stew in it for months or years because it justifies a stranger's religion. How does it help that woman to wait days to get done what she already decided? How does it help a woman when we make her empty her wallet to visit a doctor? How does it help a woman when you force her to give birth and take away her ability to control her own fertility?

I guess it doesn't.

No comments: