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Choice Without Abortion Access: How Abortion Can Become Impossible While Still Remaining Legal

Abortion access is just as important as keeping abortion legal. Protecting Roe vs. Wade has become the primary goal of pro-choice activists. But an increasingly anti-woman culture and draconian anti-abortion laws make it clear that keeping abortion technically legal is inadequate.

Choice advocates interested in abortion access for all woman now often talk about reproductive justice as opposed to reproductive choice. The reproductive justice movement, which originated with feminist organizations such as SisterSong led by women of color, focuses on access issues, not just legal rights. Reproductive justice advocates argue that abortion can’t just be legal; it must also be available to the women who need it most.

Here are five ways abortion rights are constrained even when abortion is fully legal.

Poor Prenatal Medical Care as an Abortion Access Barrier

Most pregnant women don’t see their doctors until near the end of their first trimester. That leaves women with unwanted or uncertain pregnancies to scramble at the end of the first trimester, when abortion is safest and fully legal.

A number of states have enacted legislation allowing doctors to lie to women about the risks of abortion. Coupled with the anxiety that often accompanies an unwanted pregnancy, this information can cause women to delay abortions until it’s too late. And now, Texas wants to help doctors lie to women about the health of their developing babies. New legislation, if it becomes law, would allow doctors to force women to carry babies with serious birth defects by allowing those doctors to withhold vital information from their patients.

Inadequate Leave Time

Nearly a quarter of workers have no paid time off. It’s often the lowest paid jobs that offer no paid time off. That means women in these positions may do anything to avoid taking time off work—even if it means endangering their health early in pregnancy. An abortion typically requires at least a day off of work, and sometimes more if a state requires an ultrasound or mandatory waiting period. This means that for women, something as simple as being unable to take a day off of work can put safe, legal abortions out of reach.

Lack of Access to Abortion Information

The far right has done an excellent job scaring women about abortion. They’ve taught women that abortion causes breast cancer, is often fatal, and can undermine fertility. With little information available that combats this harmful disinformation, many women delay having abortions. Others resign themselves to having children for whom they cannot care.

This phenomenon isn’t just limited to women who get incorrect abortion information, though. Women seeking care for uncertain or unwanted pregnancies may seek, but not receive, information about abortion. Some crisis pregnancy centers even advertise abortion services they don’t offer. These delays can take a woman outside of the legal time frame for an abortion.

Accessing Abortion Services

Legal abortion is a prerequisite to abortion. It’s not enough. Many women who seek abortions find barriers that make abortion inaccessible. Those may include:

  • Not being able to find a safe clinic.

  • Having to drive long distances to obtain an abortion.

  • Being required to go to the hospital to get a abortion.

  • Parental notification laws that violate an abortion-seeker’s privacy or that put her in danger.

  • Privacy concerns when a clinic is in a highly visible part of town.

Financial Barriers as a Barrier to Abortion Access

Publicly funded health plans cannot cover abortion services, and most women pay for their abortions out of pocket—even when the procedure is medically necessary. Many women, particularly the poorest, cannot come up with the funds for an abortion. Some spend their entire first trimester saving, only to learn that a second trimester abortion takes longer, costs more, and carries more risks.

If you want to keep abortion accessible to all women, not just those with means, consider volunteering with an organization that partners with women to help them access safe and legal abortions.

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