For Laurie Roberts, helping women access abortion aid means seeing them jump through hoop at a time.
As the co-director of the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund (MRFF), she takes 35 calls a week from people seeking financial, informative, logistical, and emotional support for abortion.
She shared a recent example that she says is all too common: a customer thought she was four weeks pregnant and was working to save money on an abortion only to find out six weeks later when they got the appointment that she was actually 18 weeks ago – too advanced to have an abortion at Mississippi’s only clinic with a 16 week lock-up period.
“They lost their $ 150 bail. They wasted the one day they had to go to work,” recalls Roberts. “Then I had to tell them to travel to several states and take a plane, which they have never done before because very few clinics in the south are legally able to provide abortions after 20 weeks.” Roberts eventually sent the client to Colorado, where abortions are possible for 26 weeks.
“Let’s get it straight, this is how barriers work,” said Roberts, who also acted as the client’s abortion doula, reminding her to take her antibiotics after the procedure and offering a shoulder to cry on.
The barriers only get bigger as states pass a barrage of laws that restrict abortion. According to the Guttmacher Institute, between January and July 2021 alone, 90 states passed abortion restrictions – more than every year since Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case that ruled that states cannot restrict access to abortion.
A sweeping assault on reproductive rights
“The anti-abortion movement is trying a number of creative strategies during this time when the Supreme Court has not yet allowed them to make abortions completely illegal,” said Michelle Oberman, law professor at Santa Clara University and author of Her Body, Our. “. Laws: On the Frontline of the War of Abortion, from El Salvador to Oklahoma. “
“It’s about how they can drive up the cost of abortions and make abortion less attractive and accessible to both the person trying to terminate the pregnancy and the provider.”
Some states have added administrative barriers. For example, in Arizona and Tennessee, aborted fetal tissue must be buried or cremated, and Indiana now requires parental consent to be notarized for a minor’s abortion. In Arkansas, doctors at abortion clinics must have licensing privileges in hospitals, be within 30 miles of a hospital, and have outpatient arrangements in the same county as the clinic. This makes it nearly impossible for abortion clinics in rural communities, which are often hours from the nearest hospital.
Some states have put in place financial hurdles, with Arkansas and Idaho banning public funds from being used for abortion care, Montana banning abortion insurance from state-owned health insurance, and Utah banning state college and university health insurance coverage.
Other states severely limit the ability of pregnant people to act. For example, Tennessee now allows doctors to withhold information about their pregnancy from patients if they believe the patient may seek an abortion, and Arizona prohibits abortions if there are non-fatal fetal genetic abnormalities.
Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, and Montana restricted shipping of abortion drugs and forced pregnant people to see a doctor in person to obtain them.
The maze of laws in Arkansas and Oklahoma amounts to an almost complete ban on abortion. Idaho, South Carolina, Texas, in addition to Oklahoma – which doubled the bans – introduced a six-week abortion ban, also known as fetal heartbeat calculations. These laws essentially prohibit abortions after a heartbeat is detected, but well before the Roe v. Wade set the standard for fetus viability of 24 weeks. Additionally, Texas allows anyone, in any state, to sue a Texas provider who is suspected of having performed an abortion in the past six weeks.
All of this is under the shadow of a Mississippi case that the Supreme Court will likely rule next year.
In May, the Supreme Court approved the Dobbs women’s health group hearing against Jackson, a case in which the only abortion clinic in Mississippi challenged the constitutionality of the Mississippi 2018 Gestational Age Act, which bans abortions after 15 weeks. The court will take up the question of whether states can prohibit abortions before the fetus is viable, and if the court finds it constitutional, the Roe v. Undermine Wade directly – and pave the way so that the six-week bans remain in place.
“It would be a world where states have literally made abortion a crime once a person finds out they are pregnant, effectively saying that an abortion can never be done,” Oberman said.
The Effects of Abortion Bans
What would that mean for one in four women, ages 15 to 44, who choose to have an abortion?
“If the Supreme Court says go ahead and feel free to recriminalize abortions, 16 states will keep them legal. We already know it is in their constitutions, and 34 states will be investigating whether and under what conditions abortion is prohibited, “Oberman said.
People living in more liberal states would have access to abortion, while those living in restrictive states would only have access if they have significant resources to leave the state.
“The consequences of abortion restrictions are pretty profound,” said Elizabeth Nash, Guttmacher’s chief state affairs officer. “They require people to pay out of pocket. They ask people to delay. They limit the number of abortion clinics available. They have a huge impact on what it looks like to have access to abortion care. “
She pointed to the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws that Texas enacted in 2013 that resulted in the closure of half of Texas’ abortion clinics, leaving only 20 in the state. While the laws were overturned by the Supreme Court in 2016, the damage was done and the clinics never reopened. The TRAP laws are also the reason Mississippi has only had one clinic for the past decade. This lack of access and the criminalization of abortions disproportionately affect the poorest people and color communities.
Drawing a parallel with her research in El Salvador, where abortion is totally banned, Oberman says desperation leads to black market abortion drugs that may be misused and high teen suicide rates when pregnant people see no way out.
“When there’s a lot of demand for something, don’t just drop it off making it illegal,” she said.
Without nonprofit abortion funds across the country like MRFF, pregnant people with no funding would be forced to have children they cannot or do not want to afford or to seek unsafe abortion methods.
“The anti-election movement has been working on it for nearly 50 years, and the people of the South largely live an existence before the Roe,” said Roberts. “We burned out but we are determined to keep fighting.”