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I had an abortion in my early twenties.
It was not easy to afford. I was working 60 hours a week, in a fledgling business with a lot of overhead expenses. I was fresh out of a college education I had paid for myself, and was also caring for a parent at the time. There were no resources through public health in Chicago I could use to help with the expense. My partner was pitching in for half, but all the same, coming up with four hundred dollars was an additional struggle during an experience which was already challenging without any financial issues at play.
That four hundred dollars seemed like a whole lot then. But when it all comes down to it, it's very little, and what I had to do to come up with it was so small in comparison to the experiences other women go through to obtain their abortions right now.
I had the luck of knowing almost right away that I had become pregnant. Plenty of women don't find out before their sixth week, like I did. Given how many have irregular menstrual cycles or skip periods with birth control, don't experience morning sickness or other early pregnancy symptoms, or are in such poor health already that feeling ill is normal, plenty don't know until their seventh week, their twelfth week, even their twentieth week. For those women, an abortion isn't going to cost four hundred dollars, but eight hundred, twelve hundred, even two thousand dollars or more and some only find that out once at the clinic. I had the privilege of being able to not only know I was pregnant very early, but the ability to raise money in a short enough period of time that I could get an early abortion which only cost that much. Some women know as early as I did, but are unable to raise the money for an early procedure. For them, every extra week it takes creates a new hurdle as each extra week also elevates their cost, as well as their distress by pushing them closer and closer to the point at which a termination will no longer be an option.
I had the luxury of having a provider a mere three miles from my apartment. But less than 15% of women in the United States have an abortion provider in their county, let alone a ten-minute bus ride away. Those women also have to factor in the time and cost of travel, lodging and meals into the already costly expense of their procedure.
I was able to have an early, first-trimester abortion so I also only had to be at the clinic for a few hours on one day. I did not have to risk my job by needing to take a week off of work for a procedure I probably couldn't tell my employer about without risking biased treatment ever after. I did not have to worry about having even less money than usual because I needed a week off without pay. I did not have to push myself to get right back to work when I really should have been resting and risk my health in order to make up for the money I spent on my procedure.
I was a working adult, not a teenager: I had my own source of income to help pay for my abortion. I had working friends who I could ask for funds and support. I didn't have to consider asking my parents, knowing it could compound my trauma and potentially put me at risk of being held back from getting a termination, nor did I have to face those I asked for help denying me funds because they figured I deserved the "punishment" of a child for having sex, having my birth control method fail, not knowing how to use it, not having one at all, or because I had a partner refuse to use a method or cooperate with mine. Because I was employed, period, I did not have to worry about being able to eat or pay my rent that month due to the cost of the abortion sapping all of my funds.
I had my partner's support and was financially independent, so I had no reason to be concerned with that partner freezing me out of shared bank accounts to pay for my procedure, or refusing to help me with travel to a provider. I did not have to worry that disclosing to a partner or parent that I was pregnant, and that I needed help financially to obtain an abortion, might put me at a possible or known risk of abuse or assault. Because I was living in a city where my reproductive choices were largely supported, I did not have to try and hide my pregnancy or my abortion, or spend extra money to get a ride from a friend, take a cab a town or two over to use a different pharmacy for my medications.
Coming up with the money I had to was also easier for me because I was childfree, unlike the majority of women who have abortions. I wasn't having to scrape by to support two or three children at the time while also paying for my procedure. I didn't have to arrange or pay for child care during and after my abortion.
I had a place to stay after my procedure, and lived with a person who was safe for me, so I did not have to worry about my safety during a time that is critical for self-care to prevent infections and complications, or that my lack of money would prevent me from being able to stay somewhere safe during and after my procedure. I could also afford the medications I needed to manage my cramps and to help prevent infection, and could afford to feed myself the day of and after my procedure.
And because I had the means and the support to budget for and use two sound methods of contraception after my procedure, I did not have to go to sleep at night knowing that it was likely I would have to wind up having another termination to go through and pay for, another unwanted pregnancy, very soon after dealing with the one I'd just gone through. I could afford both getting my methods of birth control and paying for them over time.
Many women do not have these abilities, privileges or luxuries. Many either may not be able to have a wanted or needed abortion at all -- they may not earnestly have the real, practical right many of us still do of reproductive choice -- or they may risk being unable to have all that is needed to make an abortion truly safe and sound, physically and emotionally. Some will put themselves at tremendous risks to try and raise those funds in ways which are unsafe and emotionally traumatic. Some who cannot afford a wanted abortion will seek to self-abort or otherwise endanger themselves. Some will instead have to continue an unwanted pregnancy and deliver a child who is not wanted and who they cannot afford to sustain or nurture, from pregnancy through the whole of that child's life.
Any of us who has been pregnant knows that what choice we feel is right for us with a pregnancy is not minor: it is essential. Pregnancy is major, and how it impacts our lives, tremendous. Being unable to make our own right choice, to only reproduce and remain pregnant when it is what we want, right for us and when we feel it is right for any child we might bring into the world is tragic and inhumane. As it is, even when we can manage the cost, we have to face protests and challenges from individuals and governments to our essential rights, judgment everywhere we look about a decision no one but we can determine is appropriate, all while often straining to keep our lunches down and continue, uninterrupted, the hectic pace of our lives.
In an ideal world, every woman's right to choose would be completely supported, and every woman's knowledge of what was right for herself and her offspring would be respected. Women would have no trouble at all finding all the financial, practical and emotional support needed to only reproduce when that was exactly what we wanted.
We don't live in that world. We live in a world where, at best, abortion is merely tolerated, and rights expressly for women and children, which primarily or solely impact women and children when granted, are granted as if a great favor is being given, rather than an equal and inalienable right. The political climate we live in now has been doing more and more to keep the legal right to abortion from being practically useful: our right to abortion is only so meaningful when the barriers to it continue to grow. We live in a world where most women make less on the dollar than most men -- and where seeking legal protection against that discrimination is still often viewed as frivolous -- despite often having a greater financial burden to begin with. We live in a world where many Medicaid programs and private insurance will cover Viagra (even for sex offenders), but not abortion or birth control. Where many women have little or no consistent access to reliable, affordable and safe methods of birth control and plenty have partners that do not support use of those methods even when those women can afford and access them. We live in a world where those who most often tend to find themselves in the most need of an abortion and with the most limitations on getting one are not only women, but women of color, women in poverty, women who were not born (or are not yet) U.S. citizens, disabled women, women with addictions, women who are legal minors, women who have been or are raped, assaulted or abused: women who are marginalized and who have less privilege beyond simply being women.
I cannot imagine having to sneak across state lines so I can obtain an abortion without my father forcibly dragging me out of a clinic as he did two times before. I cannot imagine how, with three children and a coming eviction, I could possibly save for a procedure. I cannot imagine having to have a three-day termination while my only home was a bench on the street, or at home with a partner or family member I knew would beat me when I returned there. I cannot imagine feeling I had no choice but to remain pregnant and deliver a child I strongly suspected would be born profoundly disabled because of a drug addiction I was trying to break free of. I cannot imagine having just emigrated and finding myself in the position to have to pay for an abortion while working for a wage that is a human rights violation in and of itself. I cannot imagine the two-week waiting period advised to abstain from vaginal sex after an abortion to prevent infection seeming a practical impossibility because without engaging in sex work during that period, a woman cannot support herself or her family. I have met the women who have been in these situations and others like them, and have seen a profound helplessness and desperation that no woman should have to experience during an already difficult time.
But I have also met these women and literally watched some of that helplessness dissipate; seen their worries interrupted by an exhale of relief when I can offer them financial help with their abortions.
Cedar River's Women in Need fund helps to cover the costs of abortion, lodging, transportation, childcare, meals, pregnancy testing, ultrasound and contraception for women who cannot afford or completely cover any or all of these things, even after exhausting every resource they've got. The National Network of Abortion Funds has listings for our fund as well as other funds like it you can either use for yourself, refer other women to, or help with a donation. It doesn't take much, either. The medications needed after a procedure are often less than $20. Lodging for a night, around $100. Enough to cover the portion of a procedure a woman can't, that $400 that seemed so tough for me to save up, but which is comparatively miniscule.
Because I work part-time for the Cedar River Clinics, because we serve women from several states and more than one country and also include terminations beyond the first trimester, because we're one of the last remaining independent feminist women's health centers in the states which offers abortions, and because we're having a benefit for our fund on Monday evening, I'd like to ask you to consider contributing to ours. I've administered some of these funds myself, and have spent time with some of the women who need them: I know, first-hand, how important our fund is, what a difference it can make and how it positively impacts the lives of the women we can help with it. I have watched women who would otherwise have been unable to make the choice they know was right for them, or who could not have had what they needed to assure all aspects of their procedure was safe have that ability due to our WIN fund. I give to it myself via a percentage of my paycheck every two weeks, and while I certainly need my income, giving what I can to that fund is something I feel is very important and a small sacrifice. Of course, some financial help with an abortion does not usually have the capacity to fix everything wrong in a woman's life, to wipe away inequities and hardships which are bigger than this. In some ways, it's a band-aid, but it can be one critical in keeping a deep wound from getting even deeper; causing further infection in an already fragile balance of well-being and survival. At the times I administer that fund to a client, it's amazing to see, directly, how my small contribution can sometimes literally change the landscape of a woman's life, both through being able to make the choice she knows is right and needed, and through being shown a much-needed kindness, sometimes for the very first time.
If you're in or near Seattle, our benefit tomorrow night for the WIN fund begins at 5:00 at the Karma Martini Lounge & Bistro (where I also had my book release party last year), on 2318 2nd Avenue in Belltown. You can hang out with us and donate there, and hear a little more about what this fund does. Or, you can donate through our website here. Again, if you'd like to give to an abortion fund but prefer to give to, or help with, women in your area or some other specific area, or even start a fund in an area where there is not one yet, you can take a look at a listing of funds like ours here through the NNAF. For those of you who are minors and not yet in the position to donate, know that many of these funds also can use volunteer help as well.