In anticipation of what could be termed “abortion tourism” — individuals being forced to cross state lines in order to access medical care in the wake of the repeal of Roe v. Wade — the governors of California, Oregon and Washington made a deal: If you can come here, you can get care.
Unfortunately, a road trip to reproductive freedom simply isn’t feasible for many people, especially those who struggle to find a safe place to sleep each night. The end result? There’s no mild or delicate way to put it: People will die. Babies born on the streets will die.
Though seldom addressed in thinkpieces about abortion access, the fraught relationship between homelessness and reproductive health care presents a significant, daily struggle for people living outside. Cisgender women and trans folks are disproportionately likely to be homeless because of intimate partner violence; once they’re living outside, they’re highly likely to become the victims of sexual assault. Each year, Planned Parenthood’s Care Coordination program, which actively serves survivors of domestic abuse, LGBTQ+ individuals fleeing violent homes, unhoused individuals and those in need of cross-state abortion access, aids tens of thousands of people.
Unhoused people who become pregnant frequently experience complications due to physical and mental stress, poor diet, violence, substance use and other issues that come with living outside. A 2020 study out of San Francisco — where abortion has remained legal and relatively accessible — found that “compared with those with stable housing, people experiencing homelessness or housing instability presented later in pregnancy … and had more frequent complications.”
And that was before the repeal of Roe.
Now, as individuals will be forced to travel more than 500 miles in order to terminate a pregnancy — a pregnancy for which there is no support, no social safety net and no medical care to speak of — it’s likely that many will turn to other options, including carrying a child to term on the streets, self-inducing an abortion or worse. Not only that, but residents of Washington, Oregon and California will now be in competition for coveted abortion appointments, as individuals from other states travel to these states for the same services. For people living outside, a longer wait could mean they’re unable to get the care they need in time.
The West Coast may remain a safe haven for folks seeking to terminate a pregnancy, allowing folks with the means to get here to get the care they need, want and deserve. But for individuals living in states with anti-choice laws and attitudes, the expensive, days-long trip and medical costs will be a substantial enough barrier that forced birth by homeless folks will be a new reality on the streets.
Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer living in Portland.
Read more of the July 6-12, 2022 issue.