Posted on 4.27.2012 by Amy
Access to abortion is defined by thousands of teensy decisions made by dunderheaded policymakers. Each one of these decisions is extremely significant and dangerous. Each makes all the difference in how one single person lives.
That’s what I told a friend recently when he questioned whether it makes much difference who wins the presidential race.
Actually, it didn’t quite come out like that.
Here’s what I really said, more or less:
President Obama is the President of the United States. You can’t expect much.
Seemingly small differences can make a big impact on the way people live their daily lives. I know. I was an abortion counselor. This is my story. Dun-dun.
As an abortion counselor, I worked in two different New England states. In the first, a comprehensive state insurance plan paid for abortion as a medical service. In the other, a state law prevented public insurance from covering abortion unless the woman had been the victim of rape or incest. Ironically, the former plan was developed by the Republican candidate for president. But that’s another story.
In the first state, many of the poorest women who came to our clinic seeking abortion did not have to worry about the financial burden of the surgery or medication. They could weigh their options based on long-term factors like support, relationships, future goals, and yes, the long-term financial burden of having a child.
Meanwhile, in the other state, the women on public insurance (most of the low-income patients we saw) were not covered unless they had been raped. Most had not, although as a side note, no documentation was required, so the women could easily have chosen to lie without consequence. As far as I could tell, none did.
Thanks to the National Abortion Federation and other local funds (SERIOUSLY, THANKS), we were able to connect patients with financial aid. But most funds did not cover the entire cost. Much of my time as a phone counselor was spent making calls, begging for money on behalf of women, or having conversations with them along the lines of: “Is there anything you can sell?” and “Are there any family members or friends who can lend you money?”
Women were faced with having to raise anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars (depending on how far along they were in their pregnancies) in the span of a few days or weeks in order to pay for their abortions. I spoke to many, many women whose decision-making was entirely consumed with figuring out whether or not they could afford the up-front cost, which is flabbergasting when you consider how much more a child costs. Based on the number of cancelled appointments we had from women who were having trouble raising even a small amount to pay for the procedure ($50? $100?) I knew some continued their pregnancies because they felt forced to do so by their financial circumstances.
As a private clinic struggling to survive, we couldn’t give the services away for free. Many days I wished we could have. In a better world, we will.
Here are the numbers.
--17 states are like Massachusetts. They use their own funds to pay for all or most medically necessary abortions for Medicaid (i.e. ROMNEYCARE) enrollees in the state.
--32 states and the District of Columbia prohibit the use of state funds except in those cases when federal funds are available: where the woman’s life is in danger or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.
--In defiance of federal requirements, South Dakota limits funding to cases of life endangerment only.
I believe that if I ever go to South Dakota, I am going to need a helmet fashioned from cervical caps, a paper bag (to hyperventilate into) and a latex Sword of Defiance made from an inflated condom. Wait. Maybe two of those.
Anyway, these restrictive insurance policies were all the result of teensy decisions made at the state level by legislators firmly situated under a Dumb Manly Man Rock.
In 2011, there were a record number of restrictions enacted at the state level. That happened under Obama and had little to do with him, so we can’t exactly say abortion restrictions are What Happens if Republicans Win. In many states they are already winning, and abortion is practically unattainable, if not actually unattainable.
Nor am I suggesting that we should all rally behind Obama simply because he is less Patently Absurd when it comes to basic health care for women. Such single-issue thinking, as Chantal pointed out last week, is bad for women and all other living beings trying to eke out a survival under capitalism.
Obama has deported more undocumented people than ever before. Those are individual lives and families torn apart. Each one matters. Each one must be justified by those who who may go to the polls in November to support Obama. As must every single one of the lives of thousands of Afghan civilians lost in the U.S. occupation and Obama’s escalation of the violence. Hard to justify each one when you can’t even count them.
Then again, as my highly pragmatic colleague Lily pointed out to me just now as I was discussing the idea for this post on the phone with her instead of having a social life, the lives more than 100,000 Iraqis might have been spared if slightly more people had voted Democrat in 2000 -- or (and this part wasn’t Lily’s idea, for the record) if we had had a peaceful uprising to abolish the electoral college and the capitalist system, so that the invasion of Iraq would have been recognized for the pointless folly that it was. Or if more of us -- one by one by one of us -- had demonstrated against it.
Then, as I was thinking this issue over, a reader posted something totally brilliant on our site:
“The point is not the victory, which does have the bonus of making real life easier for lots of people. The feelings of confident solidarity are what carry you forward to the endgame, which would be destroying the structures we all know have to be dismantled...we fight for the better situation (pragmatically) to ready ourselves for the larger battle... So what we'd lose by only focusing on the long goal, or only focusing on the short goal, is the potential to win both.”
I can’t get behind the idea that we can elect our way to a better future -- not by a long shot. We need movements for that. But I suppose I’m just arguing against total apathy when it comes to electoral politics. We can get frustrated and declare -- righteously so -- that there is too little difference between the candidates, that we are choosing between disappointment and disaster. But that little difference matters. That little difference is about the way people live their lives day to day. Even the most militant among us would do well to remember that each restriction, each teensy failure, each Supreme Court justice, each decision to challenge or not challenge a Patently Absurd restriction in federal court -- every single one of these things affects access. They affect the likelihood that each individual person will be able survive day to day in the life they seek to live. That is never a small thing. That is all the difference in the world. And it’s not something we ever have a right to ignore.