The coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. ― now the worst in the world ― has triggered a cataclysmic public health crisis and sent the economy into a tailspin. And another disaster looms on the horizon: the erosion of reproductive rights.
States hostile to abortion are now taking advantage of the pandemic to eliminate access, arguing that abortions are not essential procedures and should be postponed. Republican governors in Ohio, Texas and Mississippi have told health care facilities to stop all elective surgeries and procedures, abortion included. Kentucky is also taking steps to follow suit.
On Monday, Texas halted abortions there, ostensibly to preserve limited medical supplies for COVID-19 patients. The governor’s order has left women across the state scrambling. HuffPost spoke to Catherine, a 24-year-old college student in Arlington, Texas, who had embarked on a long, expensive and anxiety-inducing road trip to obtain an abortion out of state. Her interview has been edited for clarity and length. She is using a pseudonym to protect her identity.
I found out I was pregnant about three weeks ago. Even before I took the at-home pregnancy test, I knew what I was going to do if it was positive. I’m graduating college in May and have so much stuff coming at me. If I had this baby right now, I’d be looking for a new job with a big pregnant belly and then taking time off to look after a newborn. My partner and I were on the same page: This wasn’t the right time. And the biggest thing was simply that I didn’t want to.
Coronavirus was all over the news, but I wasn’t panicked about getting an appointment until I started calling abortion clinics. That’s when I realized it was going to be tough to be seen in a timely fashion. (Editor’s note: Abortion access has been eroding in Texas for years. Over half of its clinics have shuttered since 2012.) Eventually, I secured an appointment in Fort Worth for the following week.
On Friday, March 20, I went to the clinic alone. I wasn’t allowed to bring my partner because of the social distancing rules in place. In order to limit the number of patients inside the clinic, they actually had us sign in and wait in our cars. I sat in my car for two hours before I was able to enter the building. Meanwhile, anti-abortion protesters stood nearby screaming at me. The clinic’s advice was to turn my music up loud enough that I couldn’t hear them. Later, I heard some nurses talking about how one woman got intimidated and drove off.
The appointment took five hours. They gave me a sonogram and took blood. I was under 10 weeks pregnant so I qualified for a medication abortion. (Editor’s note: Medication abortion is actually two pills, which a patient takes 24 hours apart. Under Food and Drug Administration rules, the patient must receive the pills at a clinic, even though most women then take the pills home and abort there. Activists are now urging the FDA to allow women to obtain the drugs through the mail to reduce travel during a pandemic.) But Texas has a 24-hour waiting period, and so they couldn’t give me the pills on the spot. I had to come back for a follow-up appointment. The soonest they could see me was in four days, which was this Tuesday. I was experiencing severe pregnancy symptoms, throwing up all day, unable to study or eat, but I had no choice except to wait.
On Monday night, I got a phone call from the clinic. My second appointment was canceled. The staffer told me that Gov. Greg Abbott halted all abortions in the state, claiming that medical supplies needed to be saved for patients with real problems. I started to cry and she cried too. She told me my only option was to go out of state or be forced to have a baby. I was dumbfounded. I had a plan and everything came crashing down.
My partner and I began researching abortion restrictions in the states nearest Texas. Oklahoma has a 72-hour waiting period so I didn’t want to go there. The clinics I called in New Mexico had no availability until April 15. So then we looked at Colorado. After dozens of calls, I secured an appointment in Denver. It’s about a 12-hour drive from my house. My best friend came up from Austin to drive with me so I wasn’t alone. My partner couldn’t afford to miss work to accompany me. Luckily, he still has a job. I lost my job waiting tables two weeks ago after the coronavirus shut my restaurant down.
Yesterday, my best friend and I cooked a big breakfast of bacon and waffles and threw a ton of snacks in a cooler to keep us going for the entire drive. We didn’t want to stop along the way and risk being exposed to the virus. Along with our cooler snacks, we brought a box of sanitizing supplies ― latex gloves, hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes. We drove the whole 12 hours straight through. In downtown Denver, we booked the cheapest Airbnb we could find, wiped it down with our cleaning supplies, and crashed.
I had my appointment a few hours ago. I had to go through the sonogram, bloodwork and counseling all over again. But as Colorado does not have a 24-hour waiting period, they were able to give me the medication for my abortion on the spot. I took the first pill there and they sent me home with the second pill, which I’ll take when I get back.
As we talk, I’m in the car driving home to Texas. We have 10 and a half hours to go. I feel like I’m in a race against time. I have to take the second drug in 24 hours for my abortion to actually work. So that means that we need to hurry up. We don’t have time to take breaks or rest. Otherwise, I’ll be having my abortion in the car.
I was born and raised in Texas. Right now, I feel let down by my government. Frankly, I feel like my constitutional rights were violated when I needed them the most. With the cost of the Airbnb, gas, food and parking, I’ve had to pay a lot more money out of pocket to get this abortion than I should have had to.
Then there’s the additional stress. Obviously, had this pregnancy not been a factor, I wouldn’t be going on vacation during a pandemic. I already felt like it was risky for me to travel to a nearby clinic in Fort Worth to have my appointment. Instead, I was forced to drive across the country, to stop at nasty gas stations, to stay in an unfamiliar home, just to get health care. I feel like Texas put me, and my best friend, in danger. I’m exhausted and still have hours left to go. And this doesn’t end when I get home.
I still have to have my abortion.
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