I grew up knowing I could ask my mom anything. I remember once asking her how women know where to go if they need to have an abortion.
She told me that they could call the National Organization for Women and ask them to refer her to an abortion provider. I filed the information away, perhaps marking the completion of my first research project as a future reproductive justice activist.
It was not until much later in life that I learned why my mom had provided me with such a specific answer. When she became unexpectedly pregnant as a young nanny prior to Roe v. Wade, she called the National Organization for Women in search of a safe abortion.
Unofficial information networks that connected women to abortion providers were not uncommon.
After all, the fact that abortion was illegal didn’t deter women from seeking the reproductive healthcare they needed. Making abortion illegal didn’t remove women’s need for full reproductive healthcare, including ending a pregnancy.
While my mom was fortunate to know where to turn to get the information necessary to locate an abortion provider and had the ability to pay for the healthcare she needed, many women did not enjoy an equal privilege.
A study of low-income women in New York City in the 1960s found that almost 1 in 10 had ever attempted to terminate a pregnancy by illegal abortion and 8 in 10 of those women said they had attempted a self-induced procedure. Only 2% reported a physician being involved in any way.
Self-induced or “underground” abortions, the only option for many women, resulted in hardship, injury and even death—our country’s memory of times before Roe v. Wade. I wish I could say that the abortion access problem of my mother’s time is just a painful memory of the past for American women and their families.
The truth is that although abortion is now legal, meaningful access is still not a reality for many women simply looking to make the best decision for their unique life circumstances.
Since the Hyde Amendment was passed in 1976, women who are eligible for government-funded health care coverage have been denied coverage of abortion, making the care difficult to afford. This harmful policy has resulted in too many women having to make a choice between foregoing rent, paying their bills, or paying for their abortion care.
The Hyde Amendment intentionally targets poor women, who studies show are disproportionately women of color. A woman’s income shouldn’t be a roadblock to receiving the care she needs in a timely manner from a licensed provider.
Meaningful access to abortion includes affordability, health care coverage, and physical access or proximity to a provider.
More state-level abortion restrictions were enacted in 2011 than ever before and last year brought the second-highest number of abortion restrictions ever. These restrictions harm women in the midst of a difficult decision by requiring unnecessary and invasive barriers to care—things like mandatory counseling, waiting periods, and mandatory ultrasounds—all of which work to dissuade a woman from making a decision she believes is best for her life. These restrictions also make obtaining an abortion more expensive since she may have to travel hours to a provider, take time off from work, and find childcare for her kids.
Meaningful and real access to abortion will only come full circle when every woman has insurance coverage for abortion care if she needs it and can make decisions about her reproductive health, free from political interference.
As we commemorate the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, it is crucial we recognize and address the barriers that so many women continue to face all these years later.
The fight for women’s full reproductive freedom has not yet been won.
There are so many women in my neighborhood and my community that still face the same barriers in accessing an abortion that women of my mother’s generation faced when they sought an abortion more than forty years ago.
This is unconscionable.
We need to make sure that women can get the care they need. This means lifting the restrictions on insurance coverage of abortion.
One thing that we can do right now is urge President Obama to send a budget to Congress that lifts the restrictions on coverage of abortion care that disempower women from making their own healthcare decisions.
Sara Alcid is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism and is a young feminist living and working in Washington, DC as a reproductive health and justice advocate. Sara loves thinking, reading and writing about the socially and personally transformative power of feminism, queer issues, and women’s health. Follow her on Twitter @SaraAlcid.
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