June 19th, 2019

A Focus on Abortion Access

A couple weeks ago I heard Dr. Randall Williams, director of Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services, say on NPR’s All Things Considered that if Missouri’s single abortion clinic were unable to provide abortions, people seeking abortions in that state have the fortunate circumstance of Missouri’s being surrounded by eight different states, so that many facilities that provide abortions are “very close by” there.

How handy! Arkansas, for example, which is so well known for its rich abundance of reproductive health facilities, is a mere 150-mile hop, skip, and jump from central Missouri. What a relief! Such a relief, in fact, that while they’re at it, perhaps they should stop selling Viagra in Missouri and just send anyone wanting it to one of the very-close-by neighboring states to pick it up. It’s fair to assume, incidentally, that people seeking such health care measures are just sitting around with gas-filled vehicles looking for something to occupy their time, yes?

Something I’m aware of about myself is that when I get sarcastic, it means I’m so pissed off I can hardly see straight and haven’t quite processed that yet. So I’m taking a deep breath now. And what I mean to say is that if you don’t want people with uteruses to legally have the same bodily and sexual autonomy as people without uteruses, please acknowledge that and spare any listening audiences the malevolent condescension of pretending you give a shit about the health and well-being of such people.

Case in point: the interviewer asked two direct questions about patients seeking abortion care, and Dr. Williams’s answers to both did not reference or mention patients a single time. While telling, this is not surprising. Because he doesn’t care about them.

For those who want to talk about killing the unborn, this is my serious response: You prefer killing already born or grown people via war, economic policies that encourage poverty, and inaccessible healthcare? Obviously we see this differently. But if you want to say that abortion is murder and leave that statement as the singular reason abortion is wrong or should be illegal, I will assume you are 100% against all war under all circumstances. If you are not, that means you find “murder” justifiable under some circumstances. When and why is it okay? When it is government-sanctioned and done to people on the other side of the globe by people in uniform? Yes? No? If it is not the case that you oppose lethal warfare under all circumstances, then that means you need to come up with a more specific reason killing people is not justifiable in the case of abortion if you think that’s what it is. Simply falling back on the statement that abortion is “murder” does not work, as we just established that you do not find murder 100% unacceptable or unjustifiable in and of itself.

I’ve said this before, and I continue to find it an important consideration on the subject of abortion: pregnancy and childbirth are unique. I don’t think they can be compared to anything else, so using a framework of comparison—whether the fetus is a “person,” whether abortion is “murder”—seems foolhardy to me. If you find it unacceptable for a pregnancy to be terminated, then you do. Perceiving the subject of that pregnancy as something you have anything to do with while it is inside and depends for survival on someone else’s body is beyond comprehension to me. Unless you are the impregnator or intimately partnered with the pregnant individual, that pregnancy has nothing to do with you, and you have nothing to do with it. Even if you are the impregnator or partner of the pregnant person, it is the case that the individual carrying that pregnancy is its sole connection with life, and it is that body and that person who chooses how to interact with it.

If that person chooses to engage them as such, others may certainly be in consultation about it. But the common thread in all pregnancies remains that except in cases where a pregnancy releases on its own (miscarriage), the pregnant person (assuming they are an autonomously competent individual) is responsible in all stages of the pregnancy for interacting with it the way most resonant for them, whether that is choosing to release the pregnancy via abortion services, continuing with the pregnancy through birth, feeling compelled to release the pregnancy for tragic reasons after it had been received as desired, or other scenarios as may arise. If a pregnancy is embraced as desired, ideally all the circumstances surrounding it result in a life-affirming and healthy pregnancy and birth. Whether or not this occurs, the position of the individual harboring the pregnancy as the ultimate authority on it throughout the process does not change.

To return to the subject of Missouri, I am aware of the legal strategy of what they and other states are doing, and I feel confident that Roe v. Wade will be overturned in the foreseeable future. Obviously, I can certainly appreciate the activism protesting that: human-made laws that circumvent the autonomy of a pregnant individual and force a potential human being to form in and emerge from a body that does not desire or consent to that process is a literal perversion of the phenomenon of the creation and birth of life. Yes, such a specter is appalling to me. The ignorance and unconscious distortions that motivate a desire for such perversion similarly dismay me, and they are clearly operating to an ominously prevalent degree in current society.

That said, I see the loss of Roe v. Wade’s precedent as a legal protection as close to an inevitability as long as the government of this country continues in the form it has since its creation. I thus admit I feel more urgently oriented toward practical organizing in terms of helping people get abortions once doing so is criminalized again in this country. How will networking and technological advances best be leveraged to help people seeking abortions get them and help people obtaining and providing them stay out of jail? A recent article by Rebecca Traister speaks directly to this question:

“[T]hese organizations already exist, are founded and run by women of color, have long been transporting those in need of reproductive care to the facilities where they can get it; they are woefully underfunded. The trick is not to start something new, but to join forces with [those who have already been organizing around abortion access for those denied it]. . . . Distinguishing the work of abortion funds from the policy fights in state houses and at the capitols, Hernandez said, ‘whatever happens in Washington, and changes in the future, women need to get care today.’

“And whatever comes next, she said, it’s the people who have been doing this work for years who are likely to be best prepared to deal with the harm inflicted, which is a good place for the newly enraged to start. ‘If and when Roe is abolished,’ said Hernandez, ‘the people who are going to be getting people to the care they need are those who have largely been navigating this already and are already well suited for the logistical challenges.'”

Safe, professional, legal abortion has indeed been inaccessible to a number of people and populations for some time due to legal intrusions such as the Hyde Amendment, waiting periods, minor consent laws, and other legislation orchestrated to impede the accessibility of abortion services. That the legal orientation in the United States currently appears to be continuing in that direction is abhorrent, and simultaneously, a shift in how we support reproductive justice (from working to defend Roe to supporting the population after abortion is criminalized in some states) seems, however wretchedly, called for to me.


“Every road they led you down felt so wrong, so you found another way…”
-Lindsey Sterling featuring Andrew McMahon “Something Wild”

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