It’s easy to forget, in Seattle, that even though abortion is legal in the United States, there are vast swaths of the country where it’s very difficult to obtain. In those places, exercising the right to choose involves waiting periods, long-distance travel, required extra visits, expensive procedures and running a gauntlet of anti-abortion protesters before entering the building. There’s also the extra emotional pressure on women and others who are facing the difficult choice of terminating a pregnancy.
It could get worse. Maybe not in Washington state, which legalized abortion in a 1970 referendum, three years before the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision. But many states still have abortion bans on the books. Currently, several states have passed laws criminalizing abortion and defining fetuses as legal persons from the moment of conception. All this is done with the expectation that the Supreme Court will eventually overturn Roe vs. Wade. Even if it doesn’t, conservative state legislators are busy passing creative laws that make it difficult for clinics providing abortions to operate.
In “Handbook for a Post-Roe America,” Robin Marty writes, “Even with abortion technically legal, numerous people have been arrested and prosecuted, either for allegedly inducing their own abortions, for miscarrying fetuses on the cusp of viability ... for miscarrying and disposing of fetal remains ... for unfavorable birth outcomes after illicit drug use, and even for premature labor after a suicide attempt.”
The good news is that there already is an extensive network of organizations (besides the well-known ones, such as Planned Parenthood) in place to help people seeking abortions, including providing travel funds and places to stay, though the coverage across the country is by no means complete and there aren’t enough resources to meet the need.
The book gives an extensive state-by-state list of clinics, advocacy organizations and resources for people who are looking for advice, or to donate or get active.
So, what if traveling to get an abortion is not an option, financially or for other reasons? Marty also provides detailed discussion of “self-managed” abortion care, from herbal remedies to generally reliable abortion pills (particularly mifepristone and misoprostol). The book has information both on how to obtain these pills from providers on the web and how to use them.
Another chapter tells how self-help groups of women have developed and built menstrual extractors (useful up to eight weeks of pregnancy) and manual vacuum aspirators (useful up to 14 weeks). Marty cautions against using either without extensive practice, but reports that they appear to be safe, the main danger being the need to be close to a hospital if complications develop. She also points out that all of these are illegal without medical supervision; another chapter gives extensive advice for avoiding leaving electronic evidence on devices or on the web.
While the practical chapters of the book look like they could be very useful for people in conservative states, there are also some chapters that are specifically aimed at would-be organizers. These chapters seem to assume a high level of political understanding on the part of the reader. For example, there’s a discussion about the difference between reproductive “rights” and reproductive “justice” (with a questionably limited definition of reproductive rights), which is clearly aimed at people who already understand a lot about feminist politics, and which recommends not contributing to organizations that don’t have sufficient commitment to reproductive justice and local organizing.
But there’s no discussion about, for example, a woman’s right to control her own body or why a fetus is not a “baby” from the moment of conception, two of several issues that would be helpful to new activists in conservative milieus. It’s assumed the reader already understands these issues.
These chapters make the book seem somewhat inconsistent. On the one hand, it acknowledges that women of color and poor people already have the most difficulty obtaining abortions in this country (and would presumably have the most use for the more practical chapters in the handbook), but on the other, its discussions of politics is aimed at people “who have the privilege to be able to put their time, skills, money, and even personal freedom into making abortion accessible for everyone.” The chapter on “Knowing Your Comfort Zone,” addressed to such people, is actually focused on how not to over-commit and burn themselves out. But people without privilege have been a driving force for change throughout U.S. history, and often the most incisive political understandings rise out of the experience of marginalized people organizing to change the systems that oppress them.
The book could have benefited from a chapter on resources for organizing in poor communities and communities of color, and perhaps a resource guide to organizations that might help them.
Still, “Handbook for a Post-Roe America” definitely fills a need. Part resource guide, part self-help manual and part organizing handbook, it is also a wake-up call for all of us.
Read the full June 12 - 18 issue.
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