If you ever thought opposition to abortion had anything to do with concern for women’s health, disabuse yourself of that notion right now. The World Health Organization calls abortion “essential” to women’s rights and health. Closer to home, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, along with six other mainstream medical associations, issued a joint statement opposing the postponement or cancellation of abortion provision. It declared:
Abortion is an essential component of comprehensive health care. It is also a time-sensitive service for which a delay of several weeks, or in some cases days, may increase the risks or potentially make it completely inaccessible. The consequences of being unable to obtain an abortion profoundly impact a person’s life, health, and well-being.
They’re right. Abortion is crucial to women’s ability to have decent lives: to have children when they are ready and able to take care of them, to get an education, to avoid bad marriages and escape abusive partners, to work and support themselves, and to fulfill the many demands society makes on women, such as caring for the children they already have. (Fifty-nine percent of women who have abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, are already mothers.) Moreover, abortions can’t be postponed indefinitely. The longer a patient has to wait, the more likely she is to need a more complex—and more expensive—procedure. And the more likely she is to come up against the legal time limit, which, thanks to abortion opponents, is already more restrictive in many states than is stipulated in Roe v. Wade (roughly the 26th week of pregnancy).
One shouldn’t assume clinics that are shut down now will reopen when COVID-19 subsides. A clinic is not a hamburger stand. It’s a heavily regulated medical site, with highly trained staffers. Many independent clinics are already under financial pressure, thanks partly to intentionally burdensome regulations and low insurance and Medicaid reimbursement rates. “For independent clinics, reopening is a nightmare,” Pittman told me. “If they can’t afford to pay their staff while they’re closed, those people have to go elsewhere.”
Chavi Eve Karkowsky: I found the outer limits of my pro-choice beliefs
Of the more than 40 abortion clinics open in Texas in 2013 before the state legislature passed tough new restrictions, at least 18 never came back after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down those regulations in 2016. As that statistic suggests, attacks on abortion rights and access coming from every side means that even when the anti-abortion activists lose, they often kinda sorta win.
In much of the country, abortion has been barely accessible for many years; travel services such as Fund Texas Choice and the New York City–based Brigid Alliance help bring patients to distant clinics. Even in normal times, it’s an expensive process involving transportation, hotel stays, child care, and, often, lost paychecks. Now imagine doing all of that when airlines and buses are on restricted schedules and many hotels and restaurants are closed or insufficiently sanitized. Do you go halfway across the country in nitrile gloves and a face mask, subsisting on bologna sandwiches that you made at home? And what about the small networks of local volunteers who offer practical help—making arrangements, driving patients, hosting them in their homes, and so on? Social distancing gets in the way of such kindnesses. “We need to ensure the safety of the volunteers we’ve been relying on,” Odile Schalit, the executive director of the Brigid Alliance, told me. “We can’t ask them to risk their safety or their families’ safety.’