By Carole Joffe, author of Obstacle Course: The Everyday Struggle to Get an Abortion in America
I was recently asked to write a blog piece on abortion care during the pandemic for the website of the Women’s Media Center. The WMC was founded in 2005 by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan and Gloria Steinem as a “a progressive, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to raise the visibility, viability and decision-making power of women and girls in media and, thereby, ensuring that their stories get told and their voices are heard.” Since its inception, the status of abortion, in the United States and globally, has been a key issue of concern for the Center.
Below, you can find an excerpt from my blog post and a link to read more.
In our recent book, Obstacle Course: The Everyday Struggle to Get an Abortion in America, David Cohen and I detail the considerable difficulties many people have in accessing abortion care. The relative scarcity of clinics means long travel for many; that abortion patients are disproportionately low-income women of color means hardship in paying for the procedure, particularly since the majority of states do not allow Medicaid funds to be used for abortion; the onerous waiting periods in many states often mean women have to stay overnight in a distant city, leading to the additional costs of lodging and more days of lost wages; confrontations with protestors at the clinic sites themselves can often be deeply upsetting. All these barriers have increased exponentially with the coming of COVID-19, and some new problems have been added as well.
For starters, COVID-19 makes travel risky. And the political attacks on abortion — with a number of states closing down clinics on the spurious claim that abortion is not an “essential service” — mean even more travel for abortion patients. For example, when Texas was in the midst of its recent court battles that temporarily closed clinics, researchers estimated that the average one-way drive for a woman in that state to reach a clinic would increase from 12 miles to 243 miles. The economic devastation that the pandemic has brought, with so many Americans losing their jobs, makes coming up with the money for the procedure, and the attendant costs mentioned above, that much harder for a patient population already desperately poor. Protestors in various places have ignored shelter-in-place and social distancing orders and show up at clinics to aggressively confront patients. (In one notorious recent incident, a protestor, insinuating she had the virus, made a point of coughing on an elderly volunteer.)