Vats of ink have been spilled trying to figure out whether the coming right-wing majority on the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade. The truth is, we just don’t know; it will all come down to what’s in the hearts and minds of five anti-abortion, very conservative men. If I were one of them, I would definitely opt for keeping Roe and letting it dangle in the wind. Upending the precedent could awaken the majority of Americans who want to keep abortion legal. Right now a lot of pro-choicers still don’t pay attention to restrictions on abortion, no matter how stringent they are, as long as the procedure is technically lawful and available to them personally.
How do I know this? Abortion is already greatly restricted in many states and unavailable in huge swaths of our enormous country. Moreover, many women can’t afford an abortion, and that’s not the only problem. Some don’t realize they’re pregnant until it’s too late. Some can’t deal with the screaming mob—I mean kindly grandmas who just want to give them a pamphlet—outside the clinic. Some fall into the hands of crisis pregnancy centers, which feed them lies to frighten them into keeping their pregnancy or delaying their procedure until it’s too late. Some can’t make the long trip to the clinic or take three or four days off from work to meet a mandatory 72-hour waiting period. Some are undocumented and can’t travel long distances without risking arrest and detention.
And here’s the rub: We are so used to thinking of abortion merely in terms of rights on paper that we don’t think nearly enough about what women go through right now to end their pregnancy. As long as they’re successful in the end, the difficulties along the way don’t matter. But why do we accept that women should have a hard time? Do anxiety and stress and fear not count? What about loneliness and having no support, even from the people closest to you? What about stigma and shame?
We Testify, a National Network of Abortion Funds program guided by the phenomenal reproductive-justice activist Renee Bracey Sherman, promotes storytelling as a way to expand the understanding of abortion experiences, especially those of people of color with low incomes. Here are a few of their stories:
In 2008, 16-year-old Stephanie, pregnant from a sexual assault, wanted an abortion. Since she lived in Florida, that meant she had to notify her parents, who were deeply religious and wanted her to have the baby. Moreover, because clinics were under such pressure from anti-choice activists and the state, Stephanie had to bring a parent to the clinic to prove her identity. She got her abortion, but afterward her parents refused to let her use birth control (she was on their Medicaid, so they’d know). Her dad told her to close her legs. The next year, a condom broke, and the pharmacist wouldn’t sell her 18-year-old boyfriend emergency contraception, which underage Stephanie couldn’t buy without a prescription. (The law was changed shortly after.) It took her three weeks to navigate the state’s judicial-bypass system, which finally allowed her to have an abortion without notifying her parents.