The author is a contributing columnist, based in Chicago
For me, “it’s deja vu again” — and I’m not just talking about the war in Europe. As a child of the 1960s, I never thought I would live to see abortion banned in many US states, or forced back into the back streets of my homeland.
I reached sexual maturity at a time when safe abortion was impossible in my home state of Michigan, so I planned to sneak across the Canadian border if the need arose (which has never been the case). Shortly after I turned 17, the U.S. Supreme Court gave me the constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy, with its 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision.
Now a more conservative court is expected to constrain or overturn Roe, ruling by the end of June. Some states have already passed restrictive measures and the bad old days of abortion travel — or to put it roughly, as we did back then, the choice between Canada and the hanger — is perhaps also come back.
Illinois, where I now live, has become an island of abortion access in a sea of states where terminating a pregnancy is virtually or legally impossible. Almost 10,000 abortions were performed on out-of-state patients in 2020, up 28.5% from the previous year and 71% more than in 2018, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Peter Breen, vice president and senior attorney at the Thomas More Society, a conservative public interest law firm, decries Illinois’ transformation into “America’s abortion capital.” But the number of women traveling to the state for help is only going to increase.
Jennifer Welch, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, says she expects abortions in Illinois to increase two to five times, if the Supreme Court allows states to set their own rules on restriction of pregnancy terminations (Illinois would choose to remain liberal on abortion) . Already, since the passing of a Texas law last September banning most pregnancy terminations after six weeks of pregnancy, she estimates that Illinois has seen a 30% increase in out-of-state patients. “And Texas is five states.”
Some 26 US states are “certain or likely” to ban abortion if the Supreme Court turns its back on Roe, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion research organization. Just last week, the Florida Legislature pass a law banning most abortions over 15 weeks.
Pamelyn Richardson, 68, was a college student in Kansas in 1972 when she had to travel more than 1,000 miles alone, through a dangerous part of Washington DC in the middle of the night, to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. She and her soldier boyfriend got pregnant before Roe vs. Wade, when her town only allowed birth control to married women. Richardson “borrowed someone’s engagement ring and went to the doctor, but I didn’t even make it past the reception,” she recalled. Then her boyfriend went to boot camp and a few days later Richardson was shipped off to DC for the abortion, she said.
Then the clinic ‘sent me back with a piece of pink paper with a phone [number] and a dime taped to it and saying if you have a fever, call us,” she recalled. She used the coin to call from the payphone in her dorm lobby, then fought to persuade a Kansas chemist to fill the prescription provided by the out-of-town clinic.
Half a century later, a college student from Texas, who refuses to be named, tells the Financial Times an eerily similar story: She, too, traveled over 1,000 miles and spent over $1,000 on an abortion she was five days too late. to qualify at home, due to new Texas law.
Both women agree that they feel lucky to have had the resources to travel in the event of an abortion, which many women of color, or those who are poor or rural, may lack. I never thought I would live again in a country where access to abortion is determined more by money and race than by law.
Travel abortions may be logistically easier now than they once were, says Debby Pope, 69, who had a termination at 17. “But that doesn’t mean the emotions will be different,” she says. “Being very young and very scared and going somewhere far away” is no easier than it was 50 years ago. From the nuclear threat to the abortion wars, my childhood fears have all come back to haunt me.