One of the problems of being a young person in the reproductive justice movement is dealing with older organizers. One thing that these folks like to discuss is the fact that us youngns don’t know what the world was like before Roe. They REMEMBER what it was like in the bad old days! We have it so easy because we don’t live in that world. They lived through it so they know best! But the unfortunate fact of the matter is we currently live in a world that is looking more and more like the world before Roe. We may not have lived in a world where abortion is illegal, but we are living in a world where it might as well be.
To wit: access is getting so bad in red states that people often simply cannot get an abortion. Before Roe, in most states you couldn’t simply go to your local abortion clinic if had an unplanned pregnancy. Now if you live outside a major urban area or in a red state, you can’t simply visit your local provider – because you don’t have one. The Roe decision, for all its impact, did not include a requirement for widespread access. And now anti-choice state legislatures across the country are enacting targeted regulations against abortion providers (TRAP).
Virginia recently decided that it would force existing clinics to follow its TRAP law, causing most or all of the state’s clinics to close. Kansas has its own TRAP law working its way through the judicial system at the moment. Mississippi is in danger of losing its only abortion clinic. Many states are down to only a few providers. 87% of counties do not have an abortion provider. The statistics are even worse for people living in rural places. 97% of non-urban counties do not have a provider. 96% of counties in Oklahoma do not have a provider. (There are only three providers in the whole state.) This means that people who live in areas outside of major cities have to travel many miles to be able to visit a provider.
Pre-Roe, people had to pay for expensive procedures out-of-pocket since they were likely visiting an underground provider or crossing state lines. Since the passage of the Hyde Amendment 36 years ago this week, people have been unable to use federal funds to cover abortion. 17 states did create remedial laws that allowed people to use state Medicaid funds to cover abortion, but Oklahoma is one of the 33 that does not. As the percentage of people living below the poverty line expands in these states, so will the number of people forced to rely on small-scale private abortion funds to access healthcare they need.
You might say, but hey, abortion is still legal! That’s something right? Well, the legality of abortion may not be a secure as people think. Several states in the country including Oklahoma have tried to pass Personhood laws that would completely ban abortion. The Republican Party has a party platform that vows to ban abortion.
For years, people have wrung their hands over preserving Roe v. Wade. We should have been worried about what is happening now. This is a war of attrition. States will continue to make it more difficult in terms of time, money, and resources to obtain an abortion. As anti-choice advocates have made abundantly and explicitly clear, you don’t have to make abortion illegal if you can simply make it inaccessible. A legal right is not worth the paper it is printed on if you have no way to access it. People in rural, poor, red states will figure this out this sooner than most – they will be forced to travel farther and farther to find a provider, and they will likely then have to pay out-of-pocket when they get there.
If the states continue to pass repressive legislation, access to abortion in the United States will continue to decrease. In many ways, access is looking more and more like it did pre-Roe. A rich person in New York City will not have any trouble accessing an abortion, but a poor person in Oklahoma or Mississippi or Kansas will have an entirely different experience. Before Roe, the rich could travel to a state or country where abortion was legal, and they will do it again, leaving young people, the poor, and those without resources up the creek. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if time is going backwards or forwards.
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