I read with fascination the story “Looking Back, Thinking Forward” by Jennie Bristow (Vol. XXXVI, No. 1). This article, which focuses on availability and attitudes about abortion in Britain, states, “As abortion has been more openly provided, accessible, funded and talked about, so acceptance of abortion has risen, both at a general and a personal level.”
What a stark contrast to what we see in the US, and more specifically, in my state of North Dakota. As the director of the only abortion clinic in the state, Red River Women’s Clinic, I see first-hand the daily struggle our patients experience with stigma, funding and accessibility. What used to be a group of three states with only one abortion provider (North Dakota, South Dakota and Mississippi) has unfortunately grown to be a group of six (add Arkansas, Missouri and Wyoming). Women in these states often have to drive five, six or seven hours in one direction to reach the only clinic in their state. They then are forced to listen to state-mandated misinformation, compelled to view ultrasounds they do not wish to look at and generally have every kind of obstacle thrown in front of their constitutionally protected right to bodily autonomy.
Where the US seems deeply invested in stigmatizing women who seek abortion and the providers who perform it, the UK has reaped the benefits of a different strategy. Bristow writes: “The mainstreaming of the abortion service both reflects, and shapes, public attitudes.” In turn, these factors are inextricably linked to funding, as we see in this country’s legal contests to keep choice a reality.
We are battling in the legislature, in the courts and on the street with those who oppose abortion. Abortion is less accessible now than when Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. The 1976 Hyde Amendment has made abortion less affordable for the millions who rely on Medicaid for their healthcare. Legislatures across this country are passing an unprecedented number of abortion restrictions and targeting abortion providers with over-regulation. This all leads to an environment of pervasive stigma, both for the abortion patient and the abortion provider.
Bristow points out several ways in which her country’s policies create unnecessary frustrations for patients, but since 1967 there has been a steady improvement in what women experience when seeking an abortion and how easily they can obtain one.
Contrary to what is happening across the pond, it appears that we are slipping steadily backwards in our thinking.
Director, Red River Women’s Clinic