Reproductive rights meet economic reality

by guest writer Fran Moreland Johns

“We couldn’t come up with the money,” one weary 19-year-old told me. Accessing a safe abortion for Mandy, this young mother who was already caring for a severely disabled toddler, would have meant traveling for hundreds of miles and losing several days’ pay from her minimum-wage job. Unable to make that work and unsuccessful at one dangerous attempt to self-abort, Mandy now struggles with two babies under two years old and says she’ll do her best not to get pregnant again.

A constitutional right should not be denied those without money or resources. But it’s happening in state after state and is a growing injustice at every level. For a federal judge to say, as Justice Edith Jones of Texas did earlier this year, that traveling several hundred miles to access safe abortion is no problem because “the roads are flat and you can drive 75 mph,” is a slap in the face of women everywhere.

Judge Jones doesn’t know Mandy. Or, in all likelihood, any of the thousands of other women whose rights are denied because they don’t happen to have fast cars and gas money.



The Supreme Court justices who ruled against the Massachusetts buffer zone law similarly never fought through a crowd of protesters to access healthcare. They might have asked Willie Parker what it’s like. Parker is a physician who flies to Jackson, MS every week to provide abortions at the one remaining clinic in the state. He is fierce in his support of the young women of Mississippi and their right to safe abortion. “With all due respect to the plaintiffs (in the Supreme Court case),” he said in an interview with Al Jazeera, “the protesters I encounter in Mississippi are not interested in ‘quiet conversation.’”

None of this is simply about rights, says ACLU of Northern CA Communications Strategist Shanelle Matthews, another ferocious defender of women, especially minorities and women of color. “It’s about justice. You can have the rights, but if you don’t have the money, or access, or power – you don’t have justice.” Matthews, raised by a hard-working single mom in South Los Angeles, knows the stigma of poverty and the sting of injustice, and it fuels her resolve to fight for women like Mandy.

Those of us who remember the days before Roe v Wade remember what injustice felt like. A victim of workplace rape in those grim days, I never suffered real poverty. But at the time of my illegal kitchen-table abortion (which cost almost as much as my monthly salary), accessing a safe abortion usually meant finding the money for a trip to another county. Uncounted thousands of women who couldn’t come up with the money a half-century ago died after botched abortion attempts.

How can anyone want to see us return to those days?

Fran Moreland Johns is the author of Perilous Times: an inside look at abortion before – and after Roe v Wade. She blogs and franjohns.net and Huffington Post.com.