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Why Abortion Matters

Here is an article written over a year ago by Jodi Enda and published in The American Prospect. It is still relevent, as I believe that pro choice advocates must make real the stories of women who must deal with the moral complexity of choice. My generation never experienced an era without legal abortions and, in many ways, have lost track of what the argument is really about. Here is a part of the article:
Kimberly was at home with her two sleeping children when her estranged husband, high on methamphetamines and angry about their impending divorce, showed up at her door last September.

“He came in and said he wanted to talk about child-support payments. We were fighting about everything. The divorce was not final,” Kimberly said. “He raped me.”

Kimberly didn’t call the police because she wanted to protect her children from further trauma. Their lives had been upended during the previous two and a half years, ever since she was pregnant with her younger son and discovered that her husband was an addict. Since then, he’d quit his job, and she’d worked two; he put $50,000 on their credit cards at casinos and strip clubs; he threatened to kill her when she moved out with the boys; and he stole $700 from her boss, costing her a part-time bookkeeping job. After taking medical leave because she feared a nervous breakdown, Kimberly was fired from her primary job in the business department of a Phoenix TV station.

Kimberly, then 33, didn’t tell anyone about the rape, not even her closest friends. “I had no strength,” she explained. Two weeks later, she realized she was pregnant. She didn’t tell anyone about that, either.

She wanted an abortion, but she couldn’t afford one. “I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “There was no way I could have had that baby. My ex would have killed me. That was never an option.” Adoption wasn’t, either. Kimberly couldn’t bring herself to let her pregnancy show in Phoenix, and she couldn’t leave town for several months the way women used to when they got pregnant out of wedlock. “I couldn’t take my kids, and I couldn’t leave them with my ex. I couldn’t bring another child into this world. It came out of this … ,” she said, swallowing the word “rape” as she uttered it.

So, Kimberly thought, she’d wait until she could scrape together enough money for an abortion. She had no idea how difficult that would be. “I didn’t realize that the price was going up and up and up each week [as] I was going further along.”

Desperate and without medical care, Kimberly went to the state for help. She qualified for Medicaid, but was told it wouldn’t cover her abortion. She found a Web site that showed her how to apply to nonprofit groups for money to pay for an abortion. The Minneapolis-based Hersey Abortion Assistance Fund offered her $100, not nearly enough. Determined not to let the fetus reach the point of viability (generally interpreted to be 24 weeks gestation in Arizona), after which the state prohibits most abortions, Kimberly applied to dozens of funds around the country and sold her TV. By the end of January, she’d pulled together $900, the amount one clinic had told her was enough to cover her second-trimester abortion. She made an appointment for the two-day procedure.

When she went in the first day, the sonogram showed that she was nearly 20 weeks into her pregnancy. The abortion would cost $1,000. She didn’t have it. The doctor said Kimberly would have to get the money by the next morning or postpone the procedure another week, which would drive up the price again. She sat in a park and cried.

By the next morning, Kimberly had managed to get another $100 from an abortion fund, but the delay made her miss the training session for her brand-new state job. She lost the job.

This mother of two faced a difficult choice, alone. Here is why we must fight for free, unfettered access to birth control and, yes, even abortion. The article notes that most women are poor mothers like Kimberly, not irresponsible teens using abortion as birth control.
While the right has appealed to our sentiments, the left has relied on dry legal arguments, abandoning the 1960s-style speak-outs that so successfully demonstrated why women like Kimberly need choices. But today those sorts of arguments are critical: We’ve just moved into an era when every woman of childbearing age has always had the right to choose abortion. Young women don’t remember the hangers and back alleys; they didn’t live with the fear. And now, when a right they’ve taken for granted is in jeopardy, virtually the only people speaking out about their choice to terminate a pregnancy are those who say they regret having made it.

Perhaps if more people heard Kimberly’s story they would understand how difficult choosing abortion can be. They would see that most women who have abortions are responsible, often poor, adults, not the reckless teens that the right often claims use abortion as birth control. In fact, 61 percent of women who have abortions are mothers, 57 percent are poor, and 78 percent report a religious affiliation, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Some can afford the $400-and-up price tag, but many can’t. Often they don’t know where to turn for help. Many have to travel out of town to find a clinic, to spend a night or more in hotels or cars, to miss work, to parcel out their kids. Many agonize between their own lives and children and that of a potential baby that they never intended to create.

The mother of two, Kimberly, had this to say about her decision:
“I felt guilty,” Kimberly said, more so as the fetus grew and she felt familiar tummy flutters. “I felt I was going to be killing a baby. And there was a baby. ... I had two kids. I knew what I was feeling. ... It was a matter of choosing my children or this person. My children’s lives would have been turned upside down. We might not be safe; we would have been worse off financially. They were already there. I had to take care of them … . I just had to choose.”

Read the article, it's long but is a great overview of the abortion issue and where we stand now. Enda notes that,
According to NARAL, states enacted 409 anti-abortion laws in the past decade, 29 last year. NARAL reports that 47 states plus the District of Columbia allow individuals or institutions to refuse to provide women with abortions or other reproductive health services and referrals; 44 states require young women to notify or obtain consent from a parent before having an abortion, though 10 of the laws have been ruled unconstitutional; 33 states plus the District of Columbia ban public financing of abortions; 30 states have mandatory waiting periods of up to three days or requirements that abortion providers give women seeking abortions negative literature or lectures; 26 states restrict the performance of abortions to hospitals or specialized facilities; and 17 states prohibit insurance from covering abortions or require women to pay higher premiums for abortion care.

NOW’s Gandy said that even pro-choice lawmakers mistakenly fall victim to arguments that restrictions don’t hurt women. “Unfortunately, the legislators on our side don’t get it,” she told me. “They vote for these, what they call ‘little restrictions,’ all the time. It seems little to them, but the cumulative effect, or the effect on individual groups of women, can be enormous.”

As a result of restrictive laws, violence, and the stigma that has become attached to abortion, fewer doctors and other health-care professionals are providing them. The number of abortion providers declined from a high of 2,908 in 1982 to 1,819 in 2000, a 37-percent drop, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Almost no nonmetropolitan area had an abortion provider in 2000, the institute reported, which might explain why the abortion rate among women in small towns and rural areas is half that of women in metropolitan areas.

State restrictions almost certainly have caused some women, perhaps thousands a year, to forgo abortions. Research suggests that Wisconsin’s two-day waiting period might have contributed to a 21-percent decline in abortions there. Shawn Towey, spokeswoman for the National Network of Abortion Funds, a group comprising 102 organizations that provides money and support for low-income women seeking abortions, estimates that 60,000 women a year find the restrictions so onerous that they carry their babies to term. The Guttmacher Institute stated in a 2001 report that between 18 percent and 35 percent of Medicaid-eligible women who want to have abortions continue their pregnancies if public funding isn’t available.

“The biggest chunk of women who are unable to get abortions right now are poor women on Medicaid,” said Towey. While 17 states do pay for the abortions of low-income women, 33 do not. “The big irony,” she said, “is that low-income women get later abortions because they have to delay to save the money.” The Guttmacher report said that 22 percent of Medicaid-eligible women who had second-trimester abortions would have ended their pregnancies earlier if the government paid.

And behind every one of these numbers lies the story of a woman.
The rest of the article is here: American Prospect Online - The Women's View
Jacqueline Keeler
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