Right before the HHS proposal debacle occurred, I wrote a post about how fortunate I was that I could afford to see a gynecologist of my own choosing, even though the health center was not within my insurance network. In recent weeks, concerns about choice, and who can afford choice, have become much more pressing. Over the weekend, Amie Newman wrote an excellent post for RH Reality Check on the subject.
In my post about insurance and gynecological exams, I expressed a new interest in researching the issue of government-funded healthcare, to make sure that women who could not afford insurance had access to chocies about reproductive healthcare. But having socialized medicine would not help women if the HHS proposal were put into place, because this proposal allows medical organizations that receive federal funding to deny women access to contraceptives. If this proposal were in place, supposedly progressive notion of state-sponsored healthcare would leave women with even fewer choices than they had before. That’s one of the scariest aspects of this proposal; put in conjunction with a more liberal idea, it becomes all the more powerful, pervasive, and restrictive. Yes, I’m sure that pro-choice doctors would still exist. They’re not going to disappear if the HHS proposal goes into effect. But if all medical care is sponsored by the state, then many women would be stuck trying to obtain birth control pills or an IUD, because she had no legal or financial recourse.
Of course, as I’ve written elsewhere, there are many women who are already stuck. Those who live in rural areas may not be able to travel far enough to find a pro-choice doctor. They may not have a car. They may not be able to afford the abortion, and they may not have a pro-choice friend who is able to lend money. I know that the time in my life when I was most terrified of an accidental pregnancy was when I was a broke college student with no car and living 60 miles from the nearest abortion clinic. I admit that I was still better off than many women; I could have found a friend with a car to drive me, and I could have scraped together the money by borrowing from a wealthy friend or even taking out another student loan. But I still had that fear of whether or not I’d be able to find a ride or get the loan. Fortunately, my fears were never realized. Yet there are other women who are not going to be so lucky.
And so now I find myself in a different sort of planning mode. I can write letters and blog posts and sign petitions and protest and march in order to convince legislators and other relevant parties that abortion is not contraception, and that contraception should be available and affordable to all women who ask for it. But what happens if the worst case scenario comes through, and this legislation passes? What if women’s access to contraception experiences yet another roadblock?
My partner and I had a debate (okay, we had an argument) about this last week. His position is that doctors should have conscience rights protected (for the record, he’s pro-choice, he just thinks that doctors have choices as well, which set the ground for the discussion disagreement). I say that’s fine if you’re a woman who can afford to look elsewhere, but it doesn’t protect women who live in rural areas, and it doesn’t protect low-income women. He took the perspective of “Well, those women are out of luck.” At least he didn’t try to tell me that they should move to an urban area/get a better job/etc. Then he challenged me to think of a way to help them without interfering with physician choice – apparently, the onus is on the person who thinks all women should have access to contraception. (To be clear: my partner is pro-choice. I think his perspective is coming from the fact that he has never had to worry about how to obtain or pay for an abortion. I’m not saying that men cannot possibly understand this perspective. I am saying that in this particular case, his view comes from the fact that he has never had to worry about an unexpected pregnancy, or at least, he has never had to worry about how to obtain/pay for one for me or any other significant other should the need arise. I know that there are men out there who understand my perspective, though.)
Anyway, I realized that yes, the burden is on me (and other pro-choice activists) to make sure that all women have access to birth control, because we are the only people willing to be accountable to do so. Okay, I had knowledge of this fact before, but it didn’t quite resonate with me until last week that even many pro-choice people are not willing to help women get they access they deserve to contraception.
It seems to me that it’s getting harder and harder to bring contraception and abortion to women. So the only solution that I can see is to bring it to them. That might mean spending a few days hosting a woman from a rural area, who takes a Greyhound into the city to find an abortion. That might mean spending a Saturday picking up a woman who does not have a car, but lives outside the city where there isn’t reliable bus service. Providing a ride, a place to stay; these are what many women need (in addition to money). And, if you can afford it, pay for another woman’s abortion, just because she can’t. And I don’t mean just helping your friends. I mean starting/joining a network to help people you barely know or don’t know at all. Get the word out even to rural areas, that there are women out there who are willing to give their time to give you a ride or a safe space to rest. Set up a database of women willing to provide rides (although find a way to make sure that your basic troll couldn’t find out personal contact information just by cruising a website). Even set up a donation pool, to try to help women pay for their abortions.
In my head, this sounds a little crazy – there’s no way that we could get the word out, there’s no way we could keep the volunteers safe from harassers, there’s no way that we could get women to volunteer. But I know that’s not true. Yes, it would be difficult to set up an organization and get it running. Yes, it would be difficult to publicize. But I also know that there are women who would take advantage of the help such an organization could offer. And yes, it would be difficult to protect volunteers, but it can be done if we’re committed to safety. And OF COURSE I could find volunteers to help. I’m certainly not the only person who has thought of how difficult it must be for women to find a pro-choice gynecologist. Furthermore, I am probably not the first person to come up with this idea. With a little research, I’m sure I could find a similar organization. Talking to them might yield some advice.
So yes, it sounds difficult to bring women to places where they can find the healthcare they need. And no, it doesn’t solve the problem of the restrictions on reproductive choice, and it doesn’t really touch the issue of making contraception and abortion more affordable. But it’s a way to help women with nowhere else to go actually find a place they can go. I think this is an idea worth pursuing, especially to see what sorts of similar organizations/services are out there.
Crossposted at This is What a Feminist Blogs Like.