Abortion bans in the US led to a human rights crisis
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The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the constitutional right to abortion has sparked a human rights crisis across much of the country.
24 states have banned abortion or are expected to do so. Clinics in neighboring countries are overwhelmed by the demand for appointments. Most of the patients I see at Trust Women Clinic in Kansas report making numerous calls and waiting weeks for an appointment. A few months ago, our clinic received over 16,000 calls for an appointment in just one day.
The bans have created a climate of chaos and fear where millions of people are unsure of what is legal in their home states.
As each new day reveals more troubling consequences of tearing away a right people have relied on for 50 years, a new threat looms. Anti-abortion groups have sued the FDA for trying to ban a safe, effective drug used in medical abortion — a move that could fuel our abortion access crisis.
The Complaining Groups Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v FDA want the agency to revoke their approval of mifepristone, one of the drugs used in the most commonly used medical abortion protocols in the United States
Mifepristone has been on the market for more than 20 years, with an excellent record of safety and effectiveness and countless studies to back it. This challenge to mifepristone has no solid scientific or legal justification. This is a transparent attempt to make access to abortion difficult or impossible for people, hand-delivered to Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, a conservative federal judge in north Texas with a record of contempt for reproductive rights. Within days, this judge was able to block access to a drug used in more than half of abortions in the United States, even in states that have pledged to support abortion access.
A patient recently came to my clinic for a medical abortion. She finished her work shift in East Texas at 6 p.m. and drove 11 hours through the night to reach the clinic in Wichita, Kansas, in the morning. After receiving the drugs — mifepristone and misoprostol — she drove back that day — all to minimize the cost of unemployment, being away from home, and childcare.
If mifepristone were banned, she could still have performed a medical abortion using misoprostol alone. Although safe and widely used in other countries, this regime punishes people who want an abortion with even more burdens — burdens that people may find impossible to overcome. The use of misoprostol alone (without mifepristone) leads to cramps and bleeding shortly thereafter. People traveling abroad would either have to endure the process while driving or flying home — or, more likely, would have to stay longer in a state where they seek care, racking up bills for food, shelter, childcare and lost wages Sometimes they don’t work.
There are reliable sources to get mifepristone online and people can safely take the drugs and perform their own abortions. While only three states specifically prohibit self-administered abortion, law enforcement agencies have abused other laws to prosecute people, and health care providers have reported patients seeking follow-up care.
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The other possibility would be an abortion in the clinic. But clinics are already overwhelmed by demand and have long waiting lists for people seeking procedures. Adding in all the patients who would otherwise have chosen medical abortions will cripple these clinics. Abortion is a time-sensitive service. Taking mifepristone off the market would put it out of reach of even more people who need it.
Low-income people and people of color who face structural barriers are most likely to suffer. You will have a harder time overcoming the growing number of caregiving obstacles. They are more likely to be targeted by the criminal justice system if they perform their own abortions. We know that not being able to have an abortion when you need one has profound financial and psychological consequences.
Every abortion ban is an attack on people’s autonomy. Every person deserves to have the type of abortion they want, without barriers or stigma. Regardless of the outcome of the FDA lawsuit, it is clear that the anti-abortion movement will not stop attacking access to abortion where we still have it.
In the short term, we need to make sure people have the information and resources they need and support the groups that offer them a safety net. Sites like I Need an A have up-to-date information on where someone can get an abortion. Abortion funds are doing heroic work to help people travel and cover their expenses. There are resources like the Repro Legal Helpline for patients who have concerns about their legal exposure.
We must also fight for a future where abortion justice is a reality, beyond inadequate protection Roe v. calf gave us.
As I sat down with my East Texas patient to advise and administer these drugs, I saw a person beyond the numbers – beyond the 11 hours she drove, beyond one in 16,000 people calling to make an appointment . I saw a person who was dedicated to the well-being of her children, keeping her job, the financial stability of her family, and protecting her own health. I saw a person exercising their right to bodily autonomy to achieve their life goals.
Protecting access to these safe and effective medicines — and removing all other barriers to abortion treatment — is critical to countless people and their families and communities that rely on them.
dr Jennifer Kerns is an Associate Professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco and a Physician with Trust Women in Wichita, Kansas.
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