The Access Problem

(The below post is by a board member of NCWU member Carolina Abortion Fund as part of the awareness campaign Abortion Access Month. This month, which includes the September 28 Global Day of Action, highlights the barriers to safe and legal abortion for women across the U.S. and the globe).

The United States has what is considered to be one of the more liberal abortion laws throughout the world, and yet the Carolina Abortion Fund, where I serve as a board member, receives approximately 60 calls a week from people who can’t afford the cost of their abortion. And the North Carolina legislature just two months ago passed a bill which, among other restrictions, eliminates abortion coverage from county and city employee health plans, bans abortion coverage from any insurance plan available in the state health insurance marketplace, and imposes such high standards to abortion clinics that many will be forced to shut down. Abortion is still legal in the United States, but it is becoming increasingly hard to access, particularly for low-income individuals.

The young and the poor are often the ones who have the most difficulty accessing abortion. Obviously, denying abortion coverage to the nearly 17 percent of the North Carolina population that is currently uninsured means the under- and unemployed will have to struggle to come up with the full cost should they need an abortion. The parental consent laws in North Carolina means minors have to obtain permission from a parent or justify their decision to a judge, in addition to wrestling with the decision to terminate a pregnancy. Closing clinics means many more people will have to travel to seek abortion services. (With no abortion clinics in the eastern part of our state, this barrier already exists for some.) Combine this with the two trips needed to fulfill NC’s mandatory twenty-four waiting period, and those who don’t have the means to take time off work, or pay for childcare, gas, and possibly a hotel room will find it much more challenging to get the medical care they need.

Fortunately, there are many individuals and organizations working to reduce the barriers that prevent people from obtaining legal abortions in our state. Some organize legislative advocacy, such as lobby days, mass protests and legal challenges to new restrictions. Others subsidize abortion procedures for their patients, and the Carolina Abortion Fund gives small grants to our callers. Over this past month, in recognition of Abortion Access Month, I have listened to the voices of the people calling the Carolina Abortion Fund, describing to me what they need to survive, and I have been able to help a few of them out. I’ve also trained new volunteers to staff our helpline, feeling overwhelmed at the willingness of so many people to do what they can to keep abortion not only legal, but accessible.

As Abortion Access Month comes to a close, the work continues in order to close the gap between having a legal right to seek an abortion, and affording one. What can you pledge to do to ensure the availability of this safe and legal procedure? (By the way, the Carolina Abortion Fund has a few ideas.)