In April 2020, I had a second abortion after the first one failed. Because I first sought an abortion during the height of the pandemic lockdowns, some providers weren’t open. To add to the difficulty, I was on Medicaid, which does not cover abortions under the Hyde Amendment, so I was going to have to pay $800 at Planned Parenthood to have an abortion in Michigan.
I instead bought abortion pills online from Plan C, a group that advocates for access to abortion pills, and took one, hoping it would work. Statistics told me that misoprostol would be effective on its own 85 percent to 93 percent of the time, and because I was only a few weeks along, I wasn’t concerned that it wouldn’t.
Days later, nothing had happened. I knew that pregnancy tests might display a positive result for a week or more, so when I tested positive again the next week, I brushed it off. The following week, I made an appointment at an Indiana abortion clinic, where the cost of an abortion was half that of the Michigan clinic’s. I wanted to be sure that the abortion pill alone had worked, and that I wasn’t part of the small percentage of pregnant people who experienced a failed abortion.
When the nurse inserted the wand for a vaginal scan, she couldn’t find anything. She sent the doctor in to be sure. Thirty minutes of uncomfortable pressure later, a tiny speck appeared on the screen. I was exactly six weeks pregnant, which meant that when I took the pill two weeks prior, I was about four weeks pregnant. If I had been living in a state where abortion was banned at six weeks’ gestation, I wouldn’t have been able to get abortion care after the first one failed. My life would be dramatically different than it is today.
Politicians who write six-week abortion bans do so knowing that most pregnant people do not know they are pregnant at six weeks. Being six weeks pregnant means you’re two weeks out from a missed period. These laws, especially those similar to Ohio’s “heartbeat bill,” are full abortion bans.
I live in Michigan, where we have two pro-choice politicians at the highest levels of state government: Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel. Later this year, voters will head to the polls to decide whether to re-elect them. The election’s consequences are dire: If they do not win, state Republicans have vowed to ban abortion.
Last month, Whitmer asked the courts to overturn the state’s ban on abortion, a 1931 Penal Code under Chapter III that bans all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest. The law makes having an abortion a felony manslaughter charge and prescribing or selling abortion “pills, powder, drugs, or combination of drugs” a misdemeanor charge. If the Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade, as they’re expected to do in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, reversing Michigan’s ban would make abortion a protected right in the state.
Michigan is one small step closer to protecting the right to abortion in the state. On Tuesday, Michigan Court of Claims Judge Elizabeth Gleicher granted a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the 1931 ban.
Our Midwestern neighbor, Illinois, has always been ahead of us when it comes to expanding access. Even if Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the pro-choice Democrat leading Illinois, is voted out of office, it would be difficult to ban abortion in the state.
Terry Cosgrove, CEO and President of Personal PAC, a political action committee working to elect pro-choice legislators in Illinois, explained the state’s two existing abortion laws: HB 40, which in 2017 repealed restrictions on Medicaid abortion coverage and the trigger law that would ban abortion statewide if it were no longer federally protected, and the Reproductive Health Act, which in 2019 repealed the criminalization of unwanted pregnancies. But, as Cosgrove said, “nothing is permanent, and we have the most consequential election in 50 years in Illinois” in November.
Cosgrove discussed concerns about the Illinois Supreme Court seats that are up for election in November. “They are just waiting to have the justices who will decide to put aside the right to privacy,” he said of Republican lawmakers in Illinois.
In Indiana, where I got my abortion after my first failed attempt, the situation is different. If Roe v. Wade is dismantled, there is no doubt that the state would ban abortions as quickly as possible. According to the Guttmacher Institute, state lawmakers enacted 55 abortion restrictions and bans over the last decade.
Jean DeWinter volunteers both as a storyteller for Planned Parenthood and as a patient escort for Whole Women’s Health in South Bend, Indiana, where I was treated after my failed abortion. It is 1 of 7 clinics in the Indiana, and just one of two in the northeastern part of the state.
DeWinter fears for the loss of that right in her state. When she got her abortion as a teen, she faced pushback from her family and others, who attempted to coerce her into not getting one.
“It was a complicated situation,” DeWinter said. “I advocated for myself. I did not have any help in terms of ‘adult help.’ It was done in secret behind my parents’ back.”
DeWinter noted the slim possibility that Indiana’s Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb would veto an anti-abortion ban; in March, he vetoed a transgender sports ban in the state, which has led to tension in the Indiana statehouse, where Republicans hold the majority.
If abortion is banned in Indiana, clinics would be immediately shuttered and there would be no use for her as a clinic escort. Doctors at Whole Women’s Health only come to Indiana as visiting doctors to provide abortions—so if abortion is banned in the state, there would be no reason for them to return. Like DeWinter, these doctors face harassment and threats from protesters.
“Once you’ve been called a murderer to your face, I don’t think it could get any worse than that,” DeWinter said about the harassment. If abortion is banned, those abuses with only get worse.
No clinic escorts, no doctors, no abortion. Illinois and Michigan would have to do what California and Colorado have done this year and become a “sanctuary state,” where the right to have an abortion is a state law, protecting in- and out-of-state patients. Midwesterners in states like Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky would have to travel to seek abortions in the nearby states of Illinois and Michigan.
States like Illinois and Michigan may have some safeguards to protect the right to choose in the Midwest, but for poor pregnant people, pregnant people with no support system, pregnant people who aren’t aware of how to obtain an abortion, and more, it’s simply not enough—particularly in light of the leaked draft opinion published by Politico that indicates the Supreme Court plans to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Having to travel to another state for a safe and effective abortion was an experience that has forced me to advocate for pro-chocie policies and candidates, and to share my experience. But I’m not unique. Voting for pro-choice candidates and choosing to become a clinic escort are two important ways that abortion can be protected, legally and literally.