Red State Solidarity

“How much is there to be said on the ban on abortion. What a tragedy this incident becomes for the woman. At this moment she is hunted down, really. The doctor is ashamed, deep down, but falsely so. Society condemns him. Everything goes on in an atmosphere of crime and trickery. And the poor woman who was whispering to me, afterwards, I hear her say to the doctor: “Oh doctor, I’m so grateful to you, so grateful!”….A pregnant woman is already a being in anguish. Each pregnancy is an obscure conflict. The break is not simple. You are tearing away a fragment of flesh and blood. Added to this deeper conflict is the anguish, the quest for the doctor, the fight against exploitation, the atmosphere of underworld bootlegging, a racket. The abortion made a humiliation and a crime. Why should it be? Motherhood is a vocation like any other.”
-Anais Nin on her illegal abortion in 1940

PART I: Best Case Bay State

When I was in high school in Massachusetts, it was a one hour drive to the nearest abortion clinic. You could go to Springfield, MA — one of the fastest dying cities in America! — or head north across the border to Burlington, VT. It was a day trip, an errand, not a Herculean task of logistics and scrimping; the peers who went spoke nervously, but they could still go.

I start in Massachusetts because it has some of the most reproductive-right friendly laws in the nation, standing to the left of the nation’s mosaic of TRAP laws — targeted regulations of abortion providers. In the Commonwealth, abortions can be performed up to 24 weeks (the standard set by Roe v. Wade), the information given to a patient before the procedure is based on medical fact, and minors can access abortions without parental consent through a judicial bypass from the Massachusetts Superior Court. The universal healthcare law signed by Governor Mitt Romney in 2006 — known as “Romneycare” — includes coverage for ALL ABORTIONS under insurance provided by the state. Not only that — but Medicaid in Massachusetts covers abortions, something done only by 14 other states. When healthcare coverage increases, abortion rates drop — Mass has an average of 33 teen pregnancies per 1,000 women, compared to the national average of 57; in 2013, publicly funded family planning organizations prevented an estimated 26,000 unplanned pregnancies through contraceptive services.

PART II: Lone Star Legacy

This was the same year that I moved to Texas, the same year that I had my unplanned pregnancy, and the same year that the Texas Legislature passed HB2, the notorious TRAP law filibustered by then-State-Senator Wendy Davis (who went on to lose the race for governor in 2014, partially because her campaign failed to capitalize on the political will that her filibuster created). In Texas, where 26% of adults and 22% of children under 18 are uninsured — the highest rate in the nation, the teen pregnancy rate is 65 per 1,000 women — and Texas has four times as many women as Massachusetts — while Massachusetts has four times as many abortion providers as Texas.

I’ve talked to many Texans who have had abortions, or wanted them, through volunteer work with Lilith Fund and the National Network of Abortion Funds. Overwhelmingly, they are majority non-white, living in cities, already mothers, scraping by financially, unsure where to turn. Many of them have already borrowed huge sums of money from family, friends or predatory payday loan companies to come up with the money for an abortion; the time and energy of gathering this $$ can delay their appointments, driving the cost of the procedure even higher as the pregnancy advances. In addition to the procedure, which can run between $500-$2000, Texans also have to GET to the clinic: since there are only ten clinics in the whole state, in seven cities, many people find that even once an appointment is scheduled, getting there is a complicated further expense.

Conservatives have made the argument that state money should not go towards funding abortions. Conveniently, they tend to leave out the fact that when low-income citizens are forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, THAT cost is passed on to the state: in 2010, 73% of births in Texas were publicly funded, compared with 68% nationally, and 54% in Massachusetts — at a cost of $2.9 BILLION TAX DOLLARS, $852.6 MILLION of which came directly from the state of Texas. In the Bay State, federal and state expenditures on unplanned pregnancy cost $357.9 million — total.

For the past two years, I’ve raised money for the Texas-based abortion fund the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity during the National Network of Abortion Funds’ annual Bowl-a-thon — a nationwide fundraiser coordinated by NNAF to create a groundswell of financial support for myriad funds. Because Texas’ TRAP law was so divisively, so highly publicized, Lilith, as well as West Fund in El Paso, the Texas Equal Access Fund in Dallas, and Fund Texas Choice (which provides transportation), have had great success with their Bowl-a-thon fundraisers these past few years. This is not to say that Texas doesn’t remain a harsh reproductive justice landscape; only that there are activists who have stepped up in the past three years to manifest access where the state has thrown up barriers.

PART III: Wilted Magnolia

Now let’s turn to Mississippi. Nearly 20% of all Mississippians live below the federal poverty line. 20% of all women in Mississippi are uninsured; among African-American and Hispanic women, that rate jumps to 26%. 91% of Mississippi women live in a county without an abortion clinic: that’s because there is only one, in Jackson.

Here are the hoops you must jump through, even if you can get to Jackson:

-A woman must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage her from having an abortion and then wait 24 hours before the procedure is provided. Counseling must be provided in person and must take place before the waiting period begins, thereby necessitating two separate trips to the facility (added costs mean less accessibility; inconvenience adds complications; inaccurate counseling scares off women who believe their doctors must tell them the truth)
-Health plans that will be offered in the state’s health exchange under the Affordable Care Act can only cover abortion in cases when the woman’s life is endangered, rape or incest
-Abortion is covered in insurance policies for public employees only in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest or fetal abnormality
-The use of telemedicine for the performance of medication abortion is prohibited (you can’t be counseled over the phone or through Skype)
-The parents of a minor must consent before an abortion is provided (no judicial bypass)
-Public funding is available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape, incest or fetal impairment (if you receive state benefits, you can’t use them for an abortion)
-A woman must undergo an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion; the provider must offer her the option to view the image (medically unnecessary and abusive)
-An abortion may be performed at or after 18 weeks postfertilization (20 weeks after the woman’s last menstrual period) only if the woman’s life is endangered, her physical health is severely compromised or there is a severe fetal impairment, based on the spurious assertion that a fetus can feel pain at that point (actually, the medically accepted standard is that a fetus can only feel pain past 24 weeks, the standard set by Roe)

Jackson Women’s Health Organization, also known as The Pink House, has been the last clinic standing since 2011. Two doctors travel regularly to Jackson from out of state to perform abortions; no doctor in Mississippi will openly do so. Just 4% of unplanned pregnancies in Mississippi resulted in abortion in 2011; a 19% decrease since 2008. A 2014 MS law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges specifically targets Pink House — Dr. Willie Parker, who is a plaintiff in the case, applied to 13 hospitals and was denied by all of them. The law is now before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, the most conservative appeals court in the nation, and the same court which upheld most of Texas’ HB2 in 2014.

Mississippi has just one abortion fund, the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund. Because of a lack of publicly funded alternatives, MRFF not only provides funds for abortions, but also covers Plan B and birth control in many cases. During last year’s NNAF Bowl-a-thon, MRFF set of a goal of $2,000 — and only raised $1,000. For comparison: Lilith Fund — just one of several abortion funds in Texas — set this year’s goal at $75,000, and are on track to meet it. New York’s abortion fund regularly raises over $100,000 each year, in a state where most insurance and Medicaid cover all abortions.

In the last couple weeks, NNAF has suffered from a series of cyberattacks on the Bowl-a-thon donation system. The timing of this is no coincidence: most Bowl-a-thon teams raise the majority of their $$ in the last weeks of the fundraiser, and it winds down in a week. Before the site went down, Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund had raised around $2,900 — $2,100 short of this year’s $5,000 goal.

I’m bowling for MRFF this year because even as antis work piecemeal at the state level to chip away at reproductive health services — don’t forget, your local abortion clinic provides other sexual health services too! — it is federal courts that will determine whether such an uneven playing field of access continues or is struck down. When the Supreme Court announces its ruling on Whole Women’s Health v. Cole — the Texas case over HB2 — in June, it will affect all states with similarly constructed TRAP laws. Hospital admitting privileges, telemedicine, ambulatory surgical centers, undue burdens from travel and waiting periods: it’s all on the table, even if it hasn’t been served to you yet. Standing in solidarity with our sisters under the 5th Circuit, we rebuke a political system in which geography determines your constitutional rights, access to medical care, or bodily autonomy.

To donate to the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund’s #bowl16 fundraiser, follow this link, selected MRFF from the drop-down list, and enter “Red State Solidarity” for the team name. If you are in the Austin, Texas area, I’ll be hosting an IRL event on Friday, April 29, to benefit MRFF; check it out on FB. You can also purchases these fine bumper stickers, proceeds from which go to MRFF.