Governors and Courts Are Classifying Abortion Care As Non-Essential. My Experience Says Otherwise.

By Debra Hauser, President, Advocates for Youth


I have told my abortion story many times, as a way to build community with other people who have had abortions and create empathy for the millions who need abortion care every year. Each time, I remember how I felt when I found out I was pregnant. I was raising my young son by myself after my husband, who struggled with mental illness, had disappeared. I was scared for my husband, worried about going through a pregnancy alone, and unsure how I would support my young son as a single parent. 


It was overwhelming. And that was without the added stress, fear, and grief of the deadly pandemic we are experiencing now.


Already governors in Ohio, Mississippi, and Texas, with more likely to come, have declared that abortion is non-essential care, and that therefore, abortion clinics must close: leaving 43 million people without access to abortion in their state. This week we learned that the Fifth Circuit Court upheld that decision, and the closure will continue.


Unlike some procedures, abortion is time-sensitive. It can’t simply be delayed. And with social distancing measures expected to last weeks and months, this decision should be called what it is: forced birth for thousands.


To point out the even more obvious, abortion isn’t a haircut, a fitness class, or any of the other temporarily unavailable services we enjoy but can go without. The loss of abortion clinics means we are forced to travel hundreds of miles for care.  Or, contend with pregnancy and everything that entails in the midst of a pandemic. Closing abortion clinics means transforming a basic procedure with minimal risk into one which requires waiting, travel, and perhaps even an overnight stay near an out-of-state clinic: barriers which while once costly and inconvenient, may now further the spread of a pandemic. 


We’re seeing the unemployment rate rise dramatically as many lose work or are forced to stay home to slow the pandemic’s spread. Many have lost their insurance coverage and millions don’t know how they will even pay their rent.  The assistance package lawmakers are considering may provide temporary relief for some, but it cannot cover the costs of pregnancy and parenting. 


These are difficult times.  People are suffering. As a nation we are grieving the loss of tens of thousands of lives to the coronavirus. And while there’s never a good time for the physical and emotional burden of a pregnancy you don’t want but have to keep – it’s safe to say there has never been a worse time. Characterizing abortion care as nonessential is cruel, callous, and irresponsible. 


A lawsuit has already been filed to open the clinics in Texas, and youth activists are doing what they can to ensure clinics in their states stay open. Meanwhile, with most Americans now being urged to stay inside, we urgently need to consider expanding the availability of telemedicine and self-managed abortion care, both offer medically safe and effective options for handling an abortion at home. Policies that keep medication abortion out of the hands of those who need it must be revoked.


Each day we’re learning more and more that politics as usual simply won’t work in our current situation. We cannot allow the ideology of a few anti-abortion extremists to threaten public health so drastically: we need to raise our voices, share our abortion stories and demand that essential care remain available. If you’ve never spoken up about abortion before, now is the time. Call your governor, tag your lawmakers on twitter, do everything you can from your home to make sure anyone who needs an abortion during these trying times and beyond is afforded the dignity and respect we all deserve to determine if and when they will have a child. 


Debra Hauser is President of Advocates for Youth, a national nonprofit which works to ensure young people’s reproductive and sexual health and rights.