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One woman’s attempt to access an abortion clinic in America’s deep south.

Sarah (not her real name) lives in Louisiana; America’s deep south, highly conservative and religious area. It borders states such as Mississippi, Texas and Arkansas. According to Pew Research Centre, approximately 84 per cent of adults are tied to a Christian denomination with only 2 per cent of adults identifying as ‘non-Christian’. Furthermore, in a study of religious beliefs and practices by Pew Research Centre, almost 75 per cent – or 325 participants out the of 465 surveyed said they are “absolutely certain” that God exists. 43 per cent of the surveyed participants use religion as guidance on right and wrong.

In Louisiana, there are just two abortion clinics serving the entire state. Furthermore, there are over 1000 unnecessary medical restrictions for women seeking an abortion such as long waiting times, forced anti-abortion counselling mandates and forced ultrasounds.

“I called (a clinic) immediately and the earliest they could get me in for the first appointment – there is a two appt., 48 hour waiting period here – was in three weeks.

“I spent this time incredibly sick and tired, terrified, and unsure of my decision. I thought long and hard 24/7 and it took a lot to muster the courage to face my situation and do what terrified me but was the right choice (having a biological ticking time bomb inside you does force you to snap out of denial/avoidance, I will say).”

In May this year, Louisiana became one of six states to pass a strict abortion law that prohibits the procedure after six weeks – often before some women even find out they are pregnant. Labelled as unconstitutional and an attack on women the law also does not include an exception for pregnancy caused by rape or incest.

Upon arriving at the time of appointment, we’re unable to get in. No sign, no one to explain, nothing. We call the office and no one answers.

“The day for my first appointment arrives, and I’m already at 7 weeks, past the 6-week mark for the medical (at-home) abortion I desperately preferred. My partner takes the day off work and we drive down. Upon arriving at the time of appointment, we’re unable to get in. No sign, no one to explain, nothing. We call the office and no one answers. We then call it’s affiliated clinic elsewhere in the state and finally reach someone, who had no idea why it was closed.”

“Finally, after a solid half-hour on the phone trying to figure out, we’re told that the local clinic was closed for the day for a staff meeting, and that I would have to schedule a new appointment, with nothing available for almost another month (which would have put me past my first trimester and not able to get it at many clinics, including this one).

“No one called to inform me of the closing or to reschedule my appointment, we weren’t told in any direct way (even standing in front of the building and calling) that they were closed, I was basically ghosted and had the ground fall out from underneath me after waiting for almost a month to even get into the first appointment.

“IT WAS TERRIFYING. I completely broke down and started panicking, realizing that there was a legitimate chance that I might not actually GET a choice.”

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) seven states, emboldened by the Trump administration’s appointment of two justices to the Supreme Court, have passed legislation banning abortion this year. In addition to its lawsuit in Alabama, the ACLU has challenged bans in Kentucky and Ohio, and has announced intentions to file suit challenging the Georgia law. No abortion ban is currently in effect and abortion remains legal in all 50 states. This surge of bans follows years of politicians passing hundreds of restrictions designed to shut down clinics and push abortion care out of reach.

“I spent the next week desperately trying to figure out something. I considered trying to fly to a friend in the northeast and getting it at a Planned Parenthood, but it wasn’t a realistic option with that little notice. I called every clinic in East Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama but all had extreme wait times and 48 hour waiting periods that made it impossible to get without pushing me WELL into my 2nd trimester, where very few clinics in the country will do because it requires a complicated and expensive multi-day procedure (and something I wasn’t sure I could go through with, personally). The reality was hitting me hard and it was at this point I started mentally preparing myself to have no choice but to go through with the pregnancy.”

“Finally, I found a clinic all the way in Florida that had an appointment for a surgical available in less than two weeks. Fortunately, Florida has no waiting period and I didn’t have to make two appointments. The day comes, and we leave at 2-3 AM for a 7-hour drive (I got the latest appointment they could do, which was 11 AM). We arrive, it’s in a seedy strip mall nestled between religious offices, with a few lazy protesters sitting on lawn chairs holding signs.”

 Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws impose unnecessary requirements for abortion providers that inhibit a woman’s access to safe, high-quality and legal abortion procedures. According to a report published in 2015 by reproductiverights.org, the TRAP laws often require abortions to be performed in far more complicated and expensive facilities that are necessary to ensure the provision of safe procedures, such as in ambulatory surgical facilities. Compliance with these requirements may require costly and unnecessary facility modifications, which may not even be feasible in existing facilities, or impose unnecessary staffing requirements that are expensive or impossible to meet. 

Leading medical associations have gone on record opposing TRAP requirements. For example, the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) oppose a Texas law requiring abortion facilities to meet ambulatory surgical facilities requirements and physicians providing abortion services to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. In a court brief, those two leading medical associations argued that the Texas law “does not serve the health of women in Texas but instead jeopardises women’s health by restricting access to abortion providers.”

“The waiting area is so packed that there’s almost nowhere to sit, and we sit for 5 dreadful hours before I’m finally called. I go back to a seedy room with a huge window that was obviously never intended for medical purposes. The clinic was almost closed, and the doctor was rushed and abrasive. Painkillers or sedatives of any kind are not available, so I try to be brave, but the doctor was SO rough at the start that I screamed from the pain and found it impossible to sit still and ended up panicking.

“THANK GOD Florida is one of the only states that allow medical abortions up to 11 weeks because when the doctor couldn’t perform the surgical I was able to switch to the medical and take the pills. I regret not choosing that route in the first place, because it would have saved me a lot of trauma. We drove back and I cried for a solid 1/3 of the way.

“I take the first pill to end the pregnancy in the office, and they send me home with the misoprostol and prescription for painkillers and anti-nausea pills. The next day at the pharmacy, I was nearly refused the painkillers because of the out-of-state script, and was told I had to give the reason the doctor prescribed them (thus forcing me, in public with a line behind me in the highly-religious suburban deep south, to explain that it’s for an abortion).

“After I told her, the pharmacy tech then decides to use THAT moment, as I stood there waiting, to loudly and pointedly inform her coworker that she’s pregnant, and how special and exciting it was. It was absolutely intentional and so cruel, and honestly, after all the trauma I had been through my self-esteem was at an all-time low and it truly made me feel like a bad person.”

“Ultimately jump through the demeaning hoops and get my pills, and that evening I finally went through with it, at nearly 11 weeks. It was extremely painful and despite (the) pain and anti-nausea meds I was in so much pain and so violently ill that I nearly passed out on the bathroom floor, but it was done by the morning.

“A medical, at-home abortion that late can be pretty traumatic and I recommend anyone else in a similar situation to resist the urge to check if the fetus has passed yet. I could tell from feeling alone when it happened, but I wanted to make sure since I wasn’t going to be able to go to any follow-up appointment to ensure everything went okay, and it wasn’t pretty. Even though I know I did the best thing I could have done for everyone, I’ll live with that image for the rest of my life.

“It has been a year and I’m honestly still sad, but there is an unfortunate element of rage and resentment toward my traumatic experience in actually getting access to the abortion that complicates my grieving and processing. I’m okay, and you’ll be okay, but I would be much better if, when I found out at 4 weeks, I could have gone to a local Planned Parenthood and gone through with the procedure immediately, safely, and with dignity, instead of at the end of my first trimester after knowing for 2 full months that I was pregnant and wanted the abortion.”

The future of women’s access to abortion clinics across America is uncertain. If you’re wondering who exactly is voting on these laws and enacting them? Old, white, men. Their decisions, religious beliefs and decisions are impacting women across America as a whole. It should be a constitutional right to access safe, high-quality and legal abortion. A woman should not have to drive 7-10 hours to access a medical clinic to ensure her safety and life is not in danger.

For further reading please visit:

https://www.aclu.org/issues/reproductive-freedom/abortion/last-clinics-standing

https://reproductiverights.org/document/targeted-regulation-abortion-providers-trap

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