Current efforts to dismantle abortion rights, if successful, will return us to a world of pre-1973 Roe v. Wade restrictions.
Working at Family Planning Alternatives and Women’s Community Clinic in San Jose helped me see the difference between the era before and after the Row era. I heard the horrors of illegal, back alley abortions. So as soon as the Supreme Court ruling was announced, women spontaneously flocked to Market Street in San Francisco to celebrate their happiness and freedom. Soon after, our clinic began offering low-cost, safe, legal and accessible abortions onsite. Now women do not need to go to the hospital for abortion. During that period, I held hundreds of women in their hands during safe, legal abortions.
Before the decision, California was one of the few states with legalized abortion. Prior to Roe v. Wade, California law required every woman to be seen by two psychiatrists who would certify that the pregnancy would be injurious to the woman’s health. In addition, she had to be seen by a gynecologist to make sure she was early enough in the pregnancy for a safe abortion. Once she jumped through these hoops, she could schedule her abortion. Imagine teenage girls doing these tasks. The requirements of the law were a hindrance, making it challenging, sometimes impossible, for women to get an abortion. These steps often took the woman long enough, so it was too late, and she was forced to terminate the pregnancy.
Our patients told us about nightmare back-allee procedures with less credentialed physicians. Some people crossed the border to Mexico, which turned out to be unsafe abortion. Many of those abortion providers didn’t get the job done. The women returned frightened, weak and covered in blood, ending up in American emergency rooms. Doctors had to do a dilation and curettage (D&C) to make sure her uterus was clean and infection-free. Eventually, the bleeding will stop, but the woman will be left to recover from her examination without diagnostic or counseling support.
Women in Texas now live under a stringent ban banning all abortions after six weeks. Not only does the Texas ban make it illegal to perform an abortion after six weeks, but it also makes it a crime for anyone to facilitate an abortion, including an Uber driver or a friend who drives a woman to a clinic. Even pre-ro, a taxi driver was not guilty of providing transportation to the hospital. Anti-poll forces have turned the clock back 50 years, and 26 states are planning similarly restrictive legislation.
As before, rich women will always have access to abortion. Before it was legal, wealthy women would fly to Sweden or other countries offering safe, legal abortions. Similarly, Oklahoma clinics are now overwhelmed with Texas women seeking abortions. They can drive or fly to a legal facility in another state and get the best care. Poor women will not be able to travel, take time off from work and afford abortions. Many would risk their lives to terminate the pregnancy or resort to unsafe techniques. As a result, some will surely die.
On October 2, women and men rose up across the country to protest the Texas ban. Throughout the year we must make our voices heard through actions and advocacy, so that the Supreme Court and our legislators know that we will not allow this denial of our rights to succeed.
Susin Badam was the organizer of the October 2, 2021 Reproductive Rights Rally.