Four years of unrelenting assaults on reproductive rights

Abortion rights? What are they?

[Renee] Chelian is now 64 and has two grown daughters. She’s the founder and CEO of Northland Family Planning Center, a group of three clinics that perform abortions in the Detroit suburbs. A petite woman with a blunt haircut and a round face, Chelian is matter-of-fact and seemingly unflappable. But when we talk about her clinics, her tone intensifies. Her business is under constant threat of closure from the conservative Michigan Legislature, which has spent the past four years churning out a string of arbitrary new abortion restrictions designed to shut clinics like Northland down. One proposal required Northland to have one bathroom for every six patients.

“Sometimes, I feel like I’ve gone back 40-some years,” she says. “And I can hardly believe that.” Women trek hundreds of miles north from Dayton, Ohio, or east from South Bend, Indiana, for an abortion at one of her centers. Some are already miscarrying—probably after taking pills or herbal concoctions they got from the internet. A few have tried to open their cervix by digging into it with a sharp object.

Why? Because an abortion is harder and harder to get. The war on women, Molly Redden and Donna Ferrato write in Mother Jones, has essentially been lost in many places.

Most abortions today involve some combination of endless wait, interminable journey, military-level coordination, and lots of money. Roe v. Wade was supposed to put an end to women crossing state lines for their abortions. But while reporting this story, I learned of women who drove from Kentucky to New Jersey, or flew from Texas to Washington, DC, because it was the only way they could have the procedure. Even where laws can’t quite make it impossible for abortion clinics to stay open—they are closing down at a rate of 1.5 every single week—they can make it exhausting to operate one. In every corner of America, four years of unrelenting assaults on reproductive rights have transformed all facets of giving an abortion or getting one—possibly for good.

They tell a long detailed story, with graphics, of the places and ways abortion is being whittled away.

The struggle just to stay open is all-consuming. In Texas, the rules, protocols, and requirements for Miller’s entire staff change every two years, she says. Administrative workers must record the same data in twice as many logs. They prepare multiple records fearing still more inspectors.

“We dance faster, and we bend over, and we comply, comply, comply, until we pick up our head and say, ‘What are we doing here?'” Miller said. “I’m trying so hard to keep the doors open, but for who?” The rules change so frequently that even if her lawsuit against the Texas law succeeds, Miller is not sure if she would ever open a new clinic in Texas.

But she acknowledges that the need is desperate. One of the women I met in the Las Cruces waiting room, Suhey, an 18-year-old from El Paso, said she had already tried to give herself an abortion with Mifeprex a friend bought in Ciudad Juárez. (It didn’t work.) Suhey already has a daughter—the lock screen on her phone shows the two of them snuggling—and is caring for her 16-year-old sister. She can’t afford another child.

Researchers are investigating whether self-abortion attempts are on the rise. Chelian doesn’t need convincing. Recently, a woman came to her clinic who tried to pierce her cervix with a drinking straw.

It frightens Chelian that with every passing year there are fewer women like her who can recall what abortion was like before it was legal. “What they don’t know anymore, what’s gotten lost in the history, is how many women died trying to give themselves abortions,” Chelian said. Some time ago, Chelian asked a class of college freshmen what they would do if restrictions kept them from getting abortions. “We’d use a coat hanger,” one young woman replied. “Like our grandmothers did.”

Oh well, it’s only women.

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