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The War on Planned Parenthood

Inside the Republican stealth campaign to dismantle women’s reproductive rights

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Jeff Malet/Newscom/

Planned Parenthood

One frigid night this past February, I flew to Ohio to watch democracy in action. The next day, the Ohio state Legislature was voting on whether to defund Planned Parenthood, a fallout of the by then entirely discredited videos that purported to show that the organization sold fetal tissue for profit. I didn’t want to go. With a Republican supermajority in both the state’s House and Senate, it seemed a fait accompli that House Bill 294 would pass, pulling $1.3 million from the Ohio branch of the country’s largest provider of reproductive health care. I watched the blinking lights of Columbus approach through a tiny airplane window bleary with ice. The city looked cold, unwelcoming, though maybe that had more to do with what was going on inside my head than outside it. I was, it seemed, in the midst of having a miscarriage.

The day before, my husband and I had gone to a prenatal appointment, expecting to see, for the first time, the tiny flickering heartbeat of our seven-week-old embryo. “Hmmmm,” the doctor had said, moving the ultrasound wand back and forth for an interminable amount of time, as grainy, indecipherable images flickered on the screen. Her brow furrowed. Things were not progressing as they should. Actually, things were not progressing at all. Now, I was traveling with a bottle of 20 Percocets tucked between my socks in case I passed the fetal tissue while I was alone in an Ohio hotel room, on a trip to literally watch the reproductive rights of women diminish before my eyes. I was told the process could “feel like labor.” I was also told that if I didn’t complete the miscarriage naturally, I could have the tissue removed via a dilation and curettage – a procedure that in other circumstances is known as an abortion.

Up until this point, I had been lucky enough to never really have to think about something happening in my body that I couldn’t manage or control. My first pregnancy, two years back, had been textbook. And I was born in 1979, a safe six years after the passage of Roe v. Wade. My right to control my reproductive history – as well as my personal reproductive health – was something I took for granted. I think it’s safe to say that I’d been asleep at the wheel.

I shouldn’t have been. Since 2011, more than 280 laws have been passed across 31 states to limit or restrict access to abortion. Some target women seeking the procedure, making the process more onerous (multiple clinic visits), more time-consuming (mandatory waiting periods), more costly (the procedure is not covered by federal Medicaid programs and in some states cannot be covered by private insurance plans that participate in Obamacare) and more shaming (forced ultrasounds, brochures on adoption, and mandatory counseling services replete with false information and scare tactics that operate under the assumption that a woman cannot be trusted to make an informed decision on her own). But the real game-changer came when the anti-choice movement realized that instead of targeting women – which was kind of bad for PR and maybe flew in the face of the Constitution – they could target providers. In fact, they could target providers under the auspices of  ”protecting women’s health,” which, as an anti-choice tactic, works beautifully: States can’t overturn Roe v. Wade, but they can regulate health care.

Called Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP laws, these provisions sound good on paper, allowing them to largely fly under the radar (in a recent poll, 83 percent of people said they didn’t know which laws pertaining to abortion were in place), despite the fact that both the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have publicly opposed them. A law that requires abortion doctors to acquire admitting privileges at a local hospital in the event that something goes wrong seems reasonable, for instance, until you take into account the fact that hospitals are required by law to admit any patient that comes into their emergency room, no matter what. The provision that demands abortion clinics meet all the requirements for ambulatory surgical centers likewise sounds fair if you don’t know that about a quarter of non-hospital abortions in this country are achieved by simply taking a couple of pills. Or that when it comes to “surgical” abortions, they aren’t actually surgery in the traditional sense (nothing gets cut); a patient is three times more likely to experience complications getting their wisdom teeth out; and doctors performing much more risky outpatient procedures (liposuction, for instance) are not subject to the same stringent requirements, some of which would be unnecessary even for open-heart surgery.

And while, individually, TRAP laws such as these could be surmountable, taken together they have contributed to the closure of about 70 clinics across the country since 2010, while threatening the ones that remain. Five states – Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming – are down to just one clinic each. The bottom line is that as an American woman, I currently have less reproductive autonomy than I would have had the day I was born. Slowly but surely, through unnecessary regulation rather than overt anti-choice legislation, my generation is losing the rights for which our mothers and grandmothers fought.

Ohio is a case in point. As a purple swing state where 65 percent of voters oppose defunding Planned Parenthood, it wasn’t a place I would have expected to be an epicenter of anti-choice regulation. And yet extreme gerrymandering has led to Republican supermajorities that can use their unimpeachable advantage to cater to a right-wing agenda. Unlike Texas, which has gone so full-frontal in its attack on reproductive rights that the Supreme Court has gotten involved, Ohio has played it coy, and in so doing has provided a sort of playbook for other states that want to restrict access to abortion and get away with it. “I think Gov. Kasich is trying to sign more bills restricting women’s access to health care than anyone in the country,” says Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “He’s quietly done it, year after year. There’s a lack of understanding of just how extreme the Legislature and the governor have become.”

Since he entered office in 2011, Kasich has signed 17 anti-abortion measures, most of which have been slipped into budget legislation where they are out of the spotlight (possibly taking note, North Carolina recently put anti-abortion laws into the Motorcycle Safety Bill). One law banned rape-crisis counselors who receive state funding from referring women to abortion providers. Another prevented Planned Parenthood from receiving its full share of Title X funds that the federal government lets states dole out for family-planning services. Now, 82 of Ohio’s 88 counties have no abortion provider. Since 2011, half of Ohio’s 16 clinics have closed. Cincinnati could soon be the largest metropolitan area in the country without an abortion clinic.

Meanwhile, the laws keep on coming. Recently, the state Senate voted to approve a bill saying that fetal tissue cannot be donated to medical research, but instead must be buried or cremated, adding to the expense of the procedure. I know this measure is meant to punish women having abortions, but I wonder what it would mean for a woman in my situation. I go to bed hoping that if my miscarriage has to happen, it will not happen in the state of Ohio.

Kasich; Abortion; Planned Parenthood

The next morning, feeling ashen and queasy, I go to the downtown Columbus offices of Planned Parenthood to meet with CEO Stephanie Kight. I’m in the middle of telling a press contact that, as per my doctor’s orders, I have to leave to have my blood drawn at a certain time when Kight strides into the room without introduction. “I’m sorry, but I overheard you,” she says kindly, taking a seat at the table. “Do you want to talk about what’s going on?”

Petite and put together, with a stylish blond bob, Kight seems like the mom all your girlfriends thought was cool. She has worked for Planned Parenthood for 12 years, during which time she’s watched as political grandstanding has prevailed over common sense time and again – at the expense of American women.

“I think what you’re tapping into is the reality of this,” she says after I explain my own situation. “They’re all personal stories. And that’s what’s lost when we go to the Statehouse and we look into that sea of mostly white, mostly male, mostly older legislators who are completely insensitive to these women testifying about their health care. We’ve had women just like you come in front of the Legislature and say, ‘I was miscarrying. I went to Planned Parenthood, because they’re my provider, and this is how they helped me.’ And that story gets met with that stone-faced look of people who are simply going to pass this law with no concern about where that woman will go tomorrow.”

Kight has no illusions about what the fate of HB 294 will be. Once signed into law, the bill will pull state-administered federal grants (including funding from the Violence Against Women Act and the Minority HIV/AIDS Initiative) from any Ohio organization that “promotes abortion” or even “contracts or affiliates” with an organization that does so – terminology that Kight points out could be used against even the Department of Health, since it takes money from insurers who cover the procedure. Not that any of the $1.3 million Planned Parenthood will lose ever went to terminating pregnancies. Since 1976, the Hyde amendment has barred all federal funds from being used for abortion except in the case of incest, rape or danger to the life of the mother.

The illogic of it all bothers Kight, who points out that abortion makes up only three percent of the health care Planned Parenthood provides. But she seems mostly disturbed by the practical implications, the fact that in many instances she can’t offer what she knows would be the best treatment. She goes on to explain how Ohio is one of only three states in the country that require women to take an archaic dosage of the abortion pill, which the FDA approved 16 years ago but is now known to be physically harder on women and sometimes less effective. (Thankfully, the FDA modernized its dosage requirement in March.) The extra discomfort is, Kight supposes, meant to be punitive. “It just gives lie to the fact that they’re concerned about women’s health,” she says. “They’re not. They’re really concerned about controlling women’s medical decisions and their own political ambitions.”

Roe v. Wade is on the ballot unlike any other election in my lifetime. The critical thing is to make it untenable to run for office and be against women’s rights.”

The retrograde nature of it all has left Kight incredulous that the conversations that happened before Roe v. Wade are still happening now. “Your generation is sitting in the crosshairs of all of this,” she continues. “My generation fought for it, and we’re appalled that this is a situation that you even have to write about. I’m going, ‘I cannot believe that I’m having this discussion with you right now.’ ”

Nevertheless, it’s a discussion that moves to the floor of the Statehouse later that day. I’ve just finished having my blood drawn at a local Planned Parenthood when a text comes through: House Bill 294 is next up on the docket. I race to the Statehouse in time to see several female Democrats rise from their tiny sliver of the floor to discuss why the bill is a wretched idea. (Most egregiously – if you care about the lives of babies – it’ll take away money from a program that taught expectant parents to care for their infants, in a state that has the country’s fifth-highest- infant-mortality- rate.)

Meanwhile, the Republican side of the room is, by and large, zoning out. At any given moment, about half appear to be checking their phones. Then again, the main reason the bill was created was because of the inaccurately edited and misleading scam videos released last summer by the inaptly named Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group. Twelve states, including Ohio, have since concluded investigations into whether or not Planned Parenthood was profiting from the sale of fetal tissue, but all of them have let the organization off the hook. Rather than finding fault with Planned Parenthood, a Texas grand jury indicted two of the filmmakers instead. But the logic of this is lost on HB 294: The vote is cast in a nanosecond, almost precisely down party lines.

“When it comes to some of these tag lines – pro-life, gay marriage – Republicans just fall in line no matter what they really think,” says state Rep. Janine Boyd, when we meet in her office shortly thereafter. Boyd explains that she has spent the bulk of her career as a “lobbyist-slash-advocate” for families struggling with poverty. When she was sworn in last January, she was therefore thrilled to be asked to be on a new committee called “Community and Family Advancement,” whose supposed mission was to address cycles of poverty in the state. “But,” says Boyd, “we talked about poverty twice. And then, after that, five bills in a row in that committee were all about banning abortion.” Boyd all but throws up her hands. “We’re talking about a constitutionally protected right, and whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, you should be disgusted that the people you elected are on a committee that’s supposed to be doing the work of ending poverty, and instead they are doing work that is breaking the law.”

Planned Parenthood

A few days after I get back from Ohio, I start bleeding. At an ultrasound the next morning, the doctor tilts the screen out of my view and then calls for a technician, neither of which seems to be a good sign. Later that day, a radiologist confirms that I am experiencing an “abnormal degeneration of a pregnancy” and will need to have the cells that have gone rogue inside my uterus removed immediately. Due to the risk of bleeding, I cannot go to Planned Parenthood (I did ask); I need to be near a blood bank. I walk straight from the radiologist to NYU Langone Medical Center.

Because the termination of my pregnancy is medically necessary, and done in a progressive and liberal state, I am not subjected to the same indignities as some women who have abortions by choice. This difference begins even with the terminology used: Though it is the same medical procedure, my experience is not referred to as an abortion, but rather a dilation and curettage, which sounds French and vaguely refined. I am not told that having this D and C will increase my chances of getting breast cancer – medically unsubstantiated information that five states require women having abortions to be told. I am not offered brochures about adoption. I am not required to wait 72 hours, nor am I given counseling designed to discourage me from aborting, though I am required to sign a form saying that I am willingly terminating my pregnancy – and that is hard to do.

In the small room where I’d changed into a hospital gown, I kiss my husband goodbye, then walk sock-footed down a brightly lit hallway into a chamber with bustling strangers and a surgical bed. One of my arms is strapped down while an IV is inserted into the other. A mask is lowered over my face and someone tells me to breathe deeply. Fifteen minutes later, I am no longer pregnant.

Current research suggests that one out of three American women will have an abortion in her lifetime. Of the roughly 6 million pregnancies a year in this country, 45 percent are unplanned, and 42 percent of those will be terminated. The majority of American women who have abortions are Protestant or Catholic, using contraceptives and are already mothers. Thirty-six percent are Caucasian, 30 percent are black, 25 percent are Hispanic, and 40 percent have incomes below the federal poverty level. Nine out of 10 abortions take place in the first trimester, a procedure that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is safer than a penicillin shot – a good reason not to put impediments in place that will delay matters if the concern is actually women’s safety. In other words, abortions are commonplace and safe. Had my pregnancy complication not been considered high-risk, I could have had the procedure right there in my doctor’s office.

Abortions are also on the decline – and were declining even before TRAP laws began to accumulate – in large part due to more effective, long-lasting types of birth control provided by none other than Planned Parenthood and now covered by health insurers under the Affordable Care Act. And abortion rates continue to fall even in states without draconian restrictions. The only two states where abortion rates have risen, Louisiana and Michigan, are assumed to be picking up the slack from neighboring Texas and Ohio. Needless to say, women can and will go to great lengths, literally and figuratively, to get an abortion.

But not all women. The fact of the matter is that as a white, middle-class, educated woman with excellent health insurance for which my family of three pays only $447 a quarter, I would never go without being able to terminate a pregnancy should I make the choice to do so (whether I would is speculative and irrelevant to a conversation about the option being available to me). As Planned Parenthood’s Richards points out, “The impact of these restrictions is most profound on women of low income, with the least ability to travel, take off work and find someone to take care of their children.” 

Taken together, this means that the TRAP laws are having an effect, though it may not be the one the anti-abortion activists envision. According to the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, an effort out of the University of Texas to analyze the impacts of the state’s reproductive policies, between 100,000 and 240,000 Texas women ages 18 to 49 have tried to end a pregnancy by themselves, without medical assistance. Google search rates for how to self-induce an abortion (including phrases such as “how to have a miscarriage” and “how to do a coat-hanger abortion”) jumped 40 percent in 2011, when the TRAP-law crackdown began. And there is evidence to suggest that at least some women might be following through: In that same year, states with the fewest clinics had the fewest abortions and the most live births, but the decline in the former wasn’t proportional to the rise in the latter. In other words, there are pregnancies whose outcomes cannot be accounted for. “A large part of why Roe v. Wade was decided in the first place is because women across the country were routinely dying in emergency rooms after being subject to abortions,” says Richards. “I fear we are now coming full circle.”

But the assault on Planned Parenthood – what’s repeatedly been called a “witch hunt” – doesn’t threaten reproductive rights alone. In January, the U.S. House voted in favor of a bill – passed by the Senate late last year – that would pull half a billion dollars in federal funding from the organization while trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. Congress has voted to defund Planned Parenthood eight times in the past year, but this bill was the first to make it to the president’s desk (Obama has, of course, vetoed it). Since federal dollars are already prohibited from going to abortions, the legislation would have kept Medicaid coverage from going to Planned Parenthood for other services, like STI tests, contraception and cancer screenings.

Not only is it medically risky to try to take the nation’s largest provider of reproductive health care out of the picture for millions of patients, but it’s also – not coincidentally – a proposition that’s unpopular among voters. A poll conducted by NBC and The Wall Street Journal found that Planned Parenthood’s favorability rating was higher than that of any other entity that was tested, including both political parties, President Obama and the Supreme Court. Such data makes sense when you consider that one in five women is estimated by Planned Parenthood to have been cared for by the organization during her lifetime. Nor are Americans as starkly anti-choice as their politicians: According to a Bloomberg poll, 67 percent of us support Roe v. Wade, and 80 percent believe that abortion should be legal in all or at least some cases.

Contrary to what politicians say, no network of community clinics or safety-net providers could come close to ramping up services enough to take on all of the needs of Planned Parenthood’s current clientele. In Ohio, state senators supporting HB 294 circulated a list of 300 alternatives to Planned Parenthood that low-income women could supposedly access instead – a list that was roundly criticized for including dentists, food banks, rehab centers and retirement homes – places that may certainly have more than a passing interest in the health and well-being of their clients, but which cannot be said to properly stand in for an organization like Planned Parenthood. And even the places on the list that do offer legitimate health care may not be equipped to provide reproductive services, a theory I tested by visiting a clinic inside the Faith Mission the day after the vote on HB 294. When I told the cheery woman behind the front desk that I suspected I was having a miscarriage, her face fell and she went to the back to check with the health provider about what to do. She returned with an offer to call me an ambulance. Which, in a way, was funny: The day before, Stephanie Ranade Krider, the executive director of Ohio Right to Life, had responded to reporters’ questions about the list of providers her anti-choice organization touts (a list that is almost identical to the state Senate one) by saying, “I’m told that if you show up there expecting to get family-planning services and if they say, ‘We don’t provide that,’ they will actually provide transportation for you to get to the correct site.” Somehow I doubt an ambulance was what she had in mind.

Planned Parenthood

On January 29th, 1998, a man named Eric Rudolph hid a nail bomb under a flowerpot outside the New Woman, All Women health care clinic in Birmingham, Alabama. It went off at 7:33 in the morning, killing a security guard and maiming a nurse. It’s far from the only violent act the organization has sustained, but it’s considered to be the first fatal bombing of an abortion clinic in this country; and being in my hometown, it’s the one that’s most stuck with me. When I visit the Planned Parenthood clinic in Birmingham in late February, it’s what I have in mind – especially with all the protesters lined up outside.

It’s now one week after my D and C. I’m still bleeding, but not much. I no longer feel pregnant; the reeling nausea has been replaced by a numb sort of grief. To get into the Birmingham Planned Parenthood, you ring a bell and wait to be buzzed in, which I do as the protesters call out to me and I try to ignore them. The three women behind the receptionist glass are wary – it’s been less than three months since three people were killed in a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. Though the women are nice enough about it, they decline to be interviewed. I walk back outside.

In the few minutes I’ve been in the clinic, the protesters have figured out my name and address, and as soon as I come out the door, they start calling them out, loud and self-righteous, as they hold their camera phones up to my face. Somehow I hadn’t expected this, that they would think I was a doctor rather than a patient, and thus treat me with the special fury they reserve for that lot. We know who you are, they shout with menace. We know where you live. We know you kill babies.

Something hot and electric moves through my body, and for a moment, everything goes white. The next thing I know, I’m sobbing and pleading. “I just had a miscarriage,” I blurt in panic. “Please leave me alone.” And then they’ve surrounded me and, inexplicably, I’m trying to reason with them, to explain that they have no idea why women go into Planned Parenthood and no right to threaten them even if they did; that while I’d love to live in a world where no one had reason to have an abortion, protesting a place that offers contraception and sex education isn’t going to accomplish that; that whatever they may feel morally, there’s a necessary division of church and state; that Jesus never mentioned abortion, but the Book of Numbers might, giving what some believe to be instructions for how to go about it; that a fetus doesn’t have the neural connections to feel pain until the third trimester; that maybe they should focus their attentions on creating social safety nets that would make having a baby more tenable. At least, all of this is what I’m thinking. I’m not sure how much of it comes out of my mouth in an intelligible way, because I keep fighting back tears.

Meanwhile, the protesters talk about how “black lives matter” and how Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, believed in eugenics (true, but irrelevant: Chemistry grew out of alchemy) and if I were brain-dead, would I want someone to pull the plug on me? (For the record: Yes, absolutely.) “We throw baby showers for the mothers who decide to keep their babies,” one woman tells me proudly, as if that should do the trick. “You see the same women, month after month, coming out with their little bag with their abortion pill,” says another. “They’re just using it as birth control. They don’t care.”

At which point, faced with this (racist and classist) narrative that the women who get their health care from Planned Parenthood are bucking eons of evolutionary imperative and callously killing off their young, I don’t even know what to say. It makes no sense, emotionally or practically. Who in their right mind would repeatedly ask Planned Parenthood for the (very uncomfortable) abortion pill instead of an IUD? When I later share this exchange with Dawn Porter, whose documentary Trapped explores how TRAP laws have affected clinics in the South, I can almost hear her stiffen. “Not once in three years of filming did I see anybody who was casually coming in for an abortion,” Porter says. She is quick to add, however, that the “heartbreak” she witnessed went hand-in-hand with a deep resolve, that women can go into their abortions thoughtfully, even tearfully, but still want them very, very much. A 2015 Public Library of Science study found that more than 95 percent of women who have abortions do not later regret them. But of course, once you have a child, few people would say out loud that they regret that either.

Anyway, I’m snotty and trembling by the time someone reaches out to touch my arm, introducing himself as David. He’s so sorry for my loss, he says, putting himself between me and the other protesters. His wife had a miscarriage too, and seeing that fetus, with its tiny fingers and toes, its differentiated parts, made him feel that all fetuses were worth fighting for. I can tell that David, unlike the others, is not trying to convince me; he’s just trying to explain. And I get it. David gives me pause.

Because, while I believe wholeheartedly in a woman’s right to choose, I would be lying if I said that my baby hadn’t felt alive to me – that it hadn’t felt like just that: a baby. At eight weeks, I had a name picked out for it. I had plans for it. I had ideas of who he or she might become, and it’s difficult to separate those ideas from a medical reality. Could I, in good conscience, mourn the loss of my pregnancy while simultaneously supporting other women’s right to end theirs? When does life begin? I don’t know. But I do know that the way I felt about my pregnancy had little to do with what was actually happening in my uterus, which was being overrun by precancerous cells while I was browsing online for cribs. (“No fetal parts are seen,” stated the pathology report, confirming what’s called a “molar pregnancy.” I read those words again and again.) The fact is it’s all so, so personal. Having a miscarriage doesn’t make me less pro-choice, it makes me more pro-woman. Only we know the reality of our circumstances.

Later that day, David leaves me a voicemail. He’s so sorry that his group ganged up on me and were threatening. It’s not the impression they want to give. I have his condolences and his prayers. He hopes we can be friends. I send him a text saying that I’m likewise sorry he and his wife had to experience the grief that I now feel, that whatever we might disagree about, we can surely agree to pray for less sadness in the world. “We stand in agreement,” he writes back. “Amen.”

Planned Parenthood

There are actually stories where protesters go in and end up having abortions,” says Sheva Guy when I tell her about this experience on the phone a couple of days later. A 23-year-old doctoral student, Guy has long been pro-choice, but her relationship to abortion changed dramatically this past September when, a few weeks into the first semester of her Ph.D. program, Guy went with her husband to have a routine ultrasound. Her fetus was almost 23 weeks old, and up until that point, there had been no cause for concern, but the ultrasound technician didn’t like what she saw. Guy’s daughter was measuring a month too small, her organs were not forming properly, and if she somehow survived the next four months in utero, she would not survive outside the womb.

As someone who is politically informed, Guy barely had time to take in the information about her daughter’s condition before it dawned on her that it was possibly already too late for her to end her pregnancy in the state of Ohio. But she couldn’t bear the thought of spending the next four months pregnant, of having her belly grow and announce itself to both friends and strangers, of having to go through the danger of labor, all the while knowing that her daughter would be born dead. “So I asked the doctor, ‘Can I terminate in Ohio?’ And she said, ‘Oh, I don’t know what the laws are.’ They knew nothing, because somehow abortion isn’t a health care issue, it’s a political issue.” As Guy was shuffled from doctor to counselor to doctor again, none of them seemed to feel the urgency she felt to determine her options. “It was like, ‘Figure it out on your own.’ ”

When she got home late that afternoon, Guy frantically called a local Planned Parenthood. “I mean, the first time I ever went to a gynecologist, it was Planned Parenthood. I knew they would at least be able to tell me something.” The clinic confirmed her fears: In 2011, Kasich signed a ban on abortions being performed past 20 weeks; no clinic in the state could do the procedure. Instead, Planned Parenthood sent Guy a list of clinics she could drive to that might still be able to help her, and she finally got in touch with one in Chicago that said it could take her in two days. Less than 48 hours after her ultrasound, Guy, her husband and her in-laws drove 300 miles to reach the clinic, where she aborted the daughter she’d desperately wanted.

Planned Parenthood

The past few months have been hard for Guy. In theory, she and her husband want to try to conceive again, but they’re not sure when they’ll feel ready. Since going public with her story, she’s been attacked online by people who think she should have “ ’waited to see what the universe decided.’ But we’re not going to wait and let the universe decide for some other diseases and disorders, so why would you wait for the universe to decide this?”

Guy also knows that in many ways she’s lucky: She had the means and the support system to get the abortion she needed. Her grandparents helped cover the cost. Her in-laws drove and paid for the hotel. Though she’s now lost count, all said and done, she estimates that the ordeal cost at least $4,000. “All of this,” she says, “just boils down to who has the access and who doesn’t.”

Which is precisely what the Supreme Court is currently trying to figure out. In March, the justices heard arguments for Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the landmark case over House Bill 2, a Texas law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges and clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers, and that was designed to shut down 75 percent of abortion providers in the state in one fell swoop. Many suspect that when SCOTUS hands down its decision, it won’t actually be a decision, but instead a split vote, four against four. This would allow the issue to be argued again at a later date, once Justice Antonin Scalia’s empty seat is filled, but would also allow any and all current provisions to stand. Injunctions that have kept clinics open these past months would be reversed. Seven more Texas clinics would probably shut down, leaving just 10 to serve the entire 5.4 million women of reproductive age in the state. Moreover, the message to other states would be loud and clear: If you want to do away with abortion in your borders, here’s your chance; the Supreme Court isn’t going to stop you. For millions of Americans, Roe v. Wade would, in effect, be overturned.

“I do think that we are at a point of inflection here in America,” Richards tells me of the fact that the next Supreme Court appointee will probably decide the fate of reproductive rights in this country. “The November elections are really the key to whether we make this gigantic leap backward, or whether we really make incredible progress,” she says. “Roe v. Wade is on the ballot unlike any other election in my lifetime. The critical thing is for young men and young women to go to the polls and make it untenable to run for office and be against women’s rights, because we don’t have a government that represents who the American people are on any of these issues.”

Such thoughts weigh heavily on Guy: “It needs to be legal and accessible. If it’s legal, but you can’t do it, then it’s really not legal.” After all that’s happened, she can’t help but feel disenfranchised, angry that majority opinion does not rule. “What kind of democracy is this that we don’t get to make our own reproductive decisions?”

It’s not a rhetorical question, but it’s one without an answer. For a second, Guy and I grow quiet. We both had to end pregnancies we wanted; the difference is she had to fight to end hers. I imagine that makes it all the more difficult, though I don’t really know. Someone else’s grief is impossible to weigh, even if it’s not impossible to share. From hundreds of miles apart, we softly cry together into the line.

Watch how John Kasich has led the charge against Planned Parenthood.

In This Article: Planned Parenthood


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