Pro-Choice: Small, innocent laws and how they limit our rights

–By Shauna Aura Knight

Though I consider myself an activist, I also am sometimes surprised by the big blinders I have on about some issues. During the election this past year, I was shocked, like a lot of people, by the rape and abortion comments and stances supported by various Republicans. But in general, I thought, well–it’s not like abortion is going to be made illegal as long as Obama’s elected, so everything’s probably ok, right? …Right?

However, in the past months, I’ve learned that it isn’t really that simple, and that any number of tiny little laws, often state laws that seem innocent enough, can actually really impact women’s ability to make a choice.

I’m on various feminist email lists, as well as on Planned Parenthood’s email list and various others. I learned about a few state laws, as well as how Texas is de-funding Planned Parenthood. Below is an excerpt from an email sent about the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade written by Gaylon Alcaraz, Executive Director of Chicago Abortion Fund:

“Restrictions and bans across the country have forced women to parent when they were not ready, travel out of state for an abortion procedure – often late term, choose to either keep a job or terminate a pregnancy; or forgo their daily needs to pay for an abortion. These barriers to access make “Choice” nonexistent for the women that CAF serves. These are the women you fund. Over 90% of those women are extremely poor living outside the margins in society. Where is our humanity when only the privileged few are allowed to access a legal medical procedure?   

These women don’t have a choice….Understanding that without “real choice” women and girls have “no choice” at all, we believe that society must support the human right to make the best decisions about one’s life.”

What’s an abortion fund, you ask? I’ll get to that in a moment. First, a little on state laws. The new law in Texas funds the Texas Women’s Health Program and excludes Planned Parenthood because Planned Parenthood provides abortions along with birth control, reproductive health care, STI screenings, and more. There’s various legal shenanigans going on with this, and you can find out more if you Google for news stories, but the gist is this: it doesn’t really matter if there’s a federal law saying it’s legal to get an abortion, if there is no one in your state who will perform the procedure, and you can’t afford to travel out of state.

Let’s talk about an innocuous little law in my home state of Wisconsin. A woman who would like to get an abortion must first have a counseling appointment at least 24 hours before her abortion is scheduled. Seems simple enough, right? Let’s dig deeper. Imagine that you are the person faced with this very difficult choice. You don’t have insurance. And you’re only going to be able to afford this at a clinic like Planned Parenthood. Or perhaps no doctor will do the procedure nearby to you. There’s only 3 places in Wisconsin you can have an abortion at a clinic; Madison, Appleton, and Milwaukee.

Now let’s imagine that you live in a really rural area in the Northwest of Wisconsin. It’s a 5 hour drive for you to get to any one of those cities. Maybe you aren’t even sure how you’re going to pay for the procedure, much less the gas money to drive that far. Plus, you’re kind of screwed either way; if you drive 5 hours there and then 5 hours back for the counseling session, then you have to do the drive again for the procedure. Or you can just stay overnight in a hotel, but that adds expense as well. Plus you have to take time off of work, and you’re still trying to figure out how you’re going to pay for an abortion in the first place. The counseling visit is usually around $80 or $90, and it’s possible to do it elsewhere, but then there’s a transfer fee of approximately $50.

So the simple little law that seems reasonable–asking a woman to have a mandatory counseling appointment and 24 hour wait–becomes a tremendous barrier for the women who can least afford it.

In many states, health insurance will not cover an abortion as it’s considered an elective procedure. Nor will low income programs cover the procedure. Wisconsin has women’s reproductive health care assistance for women, as well as assistance for low-income pregnant women, but neither of these programs will cover an abortion. In some states, abortions are covered under Medicaid.

Let’s contrast this with Illinois. I’ve lived in Chicago on and off since 1997. It’s right over the border from Wisconsin, but what a difference a couple hours of driving makes. There’s no 24 hour wait in Chicago. I can’t speak for the entire state, but it turns out that at least in Chicago, if you don’t have insurance and meet their income requirements, an abortion costs 40% less.

So what’s an abortion fund? Basically, it’s a charitable organization that collects money from donors in order to give money to low-income women seeking an abortion but who don’t have the money to pay for it. Many are specifically for rural women or women in a specific area; there is one for women in Northwestern Wisconsin. There are abortion funds in Chicago, for instance, that also offset travel costs for women coming in from out of state. There is also an abortion fund in Chicago specifically for women trying to get an abortion in the second trimester.

Which takes us back to state laws that try to limit how late a woman can get an abortion. Why, you might ask, would a woman wait so long to get an abortion? There’s any number of reasons, but a common one is this: Imagine you find out you are pregnant, and you decide to terminate the pregnancy. However, you can’t afford the cost of the procedure, so you try saving up money, or selling some of your stuff. And before you know it, you’re 12 weeks along. It greatly depends upon the clinic, but in general, the Planned Parenthoods I talked to charge $450-$650 for first trimester abortion, and the cost begins to rise significantly after the first trimester. Imagine how frustrating that must be–to be trying to save up the money to exercise your right to choose, and then to find that the procedure cost has almost doubled.

The right to choose to have an abortion is not the only issue where there is a huge impact based upon state laws. Looking at the opposite side of things, a state law or city ordinance can actually have a lot of positive impact; there are cities that have banned plastic shopping bags, for instance. I know there’s a group in Chicago that’s been trying to get styrofoam banned in the city for many years, which would have a great deal of positive environmental impact. Or even a store policy–Whole Foods has worked to get rid of all products containing High Fructose Corn Syrup from their shelves, and to only carry organic, ethically treated, non hormonally-treated meat.

Whatever issues are important to you, take a look at the roadblocks that need to be removed and how you can help with that. The Chicago Abortion Fund recommends talking to your elected officials about what you’d like to see. Whether it’s on reproductive justice, environmental issues, or something else, you can make an appointment with a local Alderman or other representative to make your voice heard. However, if you’re concerned about abortion rights, you might do a little digging to find out what the law is in your state. Does Medicaid cover the cost of an abortion in your state? What abortion funds are available in your state? Both of these can be easily found out through Google. Perhaps you might donate to one of the funds in your area.

Or perhaps there’s an organization where you can take a more active stance of support and volunteer to escort women to the clinics. While not all clinics have masses of protesters camped outside, there are many women who simply don’t have someone who can go with them to the clinic and take them home after. The simple impact of this is that a woman cannot be sedated during the procedure without someone to take her home. Imagine that you’re pregnant, you’ve finally gotten the money together to have the procedure, and you can even afford the extra money it costs to get sedated–but you don’t have anyone you know who would support your choice and take you to a clinic. Or, everyone you know is working and can’t afford the time off.

One organization I’ve thought of volunteering with is a Chicago Doula network that offers people the chance to volunteer to escort women to clinics and be emotional support for them after an abortion.

What are the local laws in your area that raise barriers to women exercising their right to choose? Or other local laws raising barriers to other issues that matter to you?

And, what are local laws or ordinances that could positively impact your community? Perhaps you could help out an organization trying to get hormonally-treated meat out of local stores, or ban plastic shopping bags or styrofoam. Or even just talk to a local restaurant and ask them to stop using styrofoam for their takeout and use something more environmentally sustainable.

Similarly, you might also explore which businesses donate money to politicians who support anti-choice legislation, and no longer patronize those stores. And maybe you can talk a few of your friends into not shopping their either.

I would be interested in hearing from people about any efforts you’re aware of  to overturn legislation that offers barriers to women seeking an abortion, or how more people can take an active role in supporting women’s right to choose.


BioShauna2Shauna Aura Knight is an author, artist, ritualist, community builder, activist, and spiritual seeker. She travels nationally offering intensive education in the transformative arts of ritual, community leadership, and spiritual growth. She’s the published author of books and articles on leadership, ritual facilitation, and personal transformation, as well as an author of fantasy fiction. Her mythic artwork is used for magazines, book covers, and personal shrines. Check out her blog on Pagan leadership and community building or her web site for more information on upcoming classes, rituals, books, and articles.

2 thoughts on “Pro-Choice: Small, innocent laws and how they limit our rights

  1. Alice Rain

    Shauna, you are a wonder. My best response to the sustained campaign against reproductive rights is incoherent rage; yours is well-researched, well-said, and offers practical steps to help.

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