Abortions are legal in the United States, but that hasn’t stopped many states from making it extremely hard to get one.
For instance, in my home state of Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine signed a law in 2019 called a “heartbeat” ban. Though it never went into effect, the law nonsensically tried to ban abortion as soon as a “heartbeat” is detected, around six weeks into a pregnancy.
First of all, a six-week embryo doesn’t even have a heart. A six-week embryo doesn’t have a cardiovascular system of any kind. What it does have is a group of cells with electrical activity. Some people insist on calling that a heartbeat because “heartbeat” sounds more provocative than what it actually is: “fetal pole electrical activity.”
Second, this law would have operated as a total abortion ban. That’s because doctors are able to detect this electrical activity at six weeks of pregnancy, which is about four weeks after conception and before most people know they’re pregnant. So the law puts pregnant people in the impossible position of having to get an abortion for a pregnancy they don’t even know exists.
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A federal judge blocked the law, thankfully. But according to a recent report, 1 in 10 Ohio women think abortion is illegal anyway. This is not by accident. Ohio lawmakers want you to think abortion is illegal and, at a minimum, want to make it virtually impossible for you to get one. I wanted to see for myself what abortion access in Ohio is like, so I decided to investigate. “If I needed an abortion right now,” I asked myself, “what would it take to get one in Ohio?”
I started with a Google search: “abortion clinics near me.” My closest clinic is in Cleveland, 38 miles away; according to Google, it would take 45 minutes for me to get there by car as long as there are no traffic delays. There are three abortion clinics in Cleveland and the surrounding suburbs, but the next closest place is in Columbus, which is three hours away. And beyond that, I would have to travel out of state to Michigan. There used to be two clinics in Toledo, but an anti-choice law shut one of them down and the other can only offer medication abortion now.
In 2014, Ohio had 17 facilities that offered abortion care, and 12 of those were clinics. By 2017, that number fell to 14, with nine clinics. And after another closure, there are now only eight abortion clinics in Ohio; only six of those provide procedural abortions in addition to medication. For that, we can thank restrictive laws that keep making clinics shut down or offer fewer services. So now we’re going backward—wonderful.
If I wanted to give birth, however, I could do so at any one of the numerous sites less than 15 minutes away from me. Considering that abortion is safer than labor, shouldn’t there be more abortion clinics? After all, lawmakers often justify passing abortion restrictions by claiming they are trying to protect the health and safety of people who are pregnant.
I called one of the clinics to see when the next appointment would be available. They told me it would be a little over two weeks. The website says to expect protesters; sometimes, volunteers called clinic escorts will walk the patient to and from their car to protect them from harassment.
As with most medical facilities, children are allowed inside but must be accompanied by an adult at all times, and they are not allowed in the exam room. That was before COVID, of course. Now, no one is allowed to come into the exam room with you. That means I need to find child care. Luckily for me, I have a babysitter.
I have never needed an abortion before, so I didn’t know a lot about it. But from my research, I expected to be able to get a medication abortion, which means just taking two types of medication. You can get a medication abortion in Ohio up until nine weeks. Since the average person doesn’t find out they are pregnant until after six weeks—which is when clinical symptoms start—this seems doable.
Then I discovered that Ohio state law forces me to be “counseled” by a physician—and then I’d have to go home to think about all the things the doctor said for at least 24 hours before returning for another appointment. It’s already been proven that waiting periods don’t dissuade a person’s decision. As if pregnant people are just haphazardly deciding to have an abortion without even considering the pros/cons for themselves. Pregnant people have been having to do their own medical research since cis men started practicing medicine!
So, because of the waiting period, and because this clinic is booked up two weeks in advance, I wouldn’t be able to get back for my next appointment for a couple of weeks. That would put the average person at ten weeks pregnant, so there goes any chance of having a medication abortion. (The FDA has approved the medication abortion pills for use up to ten weeks into pregnancy.) Make no mistake; that is by design.
If I can’t get a medication abortion, my next option would be a procedural abortion, at a cost of anywhere between $575 and $1,425, depending on how far along I am. Keep in mind that the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, and Ohio public employee insurance don’t cover the cost of an abortion in Ohio, unless the pregnancy causes life endangerment or conception is a result of rape or incest.
Supposedly, there is an option to buy separate “abortion insurance,” but I couldn’t find it. But even if I could, that’s an extra cost for something that nobody expects to happen, and as a single mom, I don’t have money for extra costs. Many of the state’s clinics offer financial assistance to help with the abortion costs. But as it stands, it would take me a few weeks to scrounge up the money to pay for an abortion and by then, it would cost even more. Again, this is by design.
My second appointment at the clinic has the same no visitors rule, but since I’ll be doing a procedural abortion now, I’ll have to bring someone to drive me home. My babysitter is my best friend, and if anyone is going to help me, it’s her. That means we now have to load up the car with me, her, and two young children and embark on a journey to Cleveland.
As anyone with kids knows, if we’re going on a drive for longer than 30 mins, we need to bring snacks. Since they will all be waiting in the car for anywhere from two to six hours, they’ll also need lunch and probably another snack. They’ll definitely have to go potty at some point, probably at separate times.
By now, I consider this an all-day extravaganza.
I know I keep saying it, but it is essential that everyone knows: This is by design to target those who aren’t wealthy.
If I had money to burn, I would simply pay the babysitter to take care of both my kids for a week, go out to Cleveland, stay in a hotel for the time, make my two appointments via Uber, and take it easy for a few days. Few have that luxury; I am not one of the few.
Ohio has taken anti-abortion policy to extremes, and it is absolutely not OK. Lawmakers in Ohio have made the process of abortion so complicated that some Ohioans think it’s actually illegal. It’s not. Abortion is legal in all 50 states, but some states, like my home state, still make it extremely difficult to have one.
Even though this exercise was all hypothetical for me, it was still confusing and unnecessarily stressful; I can only imagine how much worse it is for the tens of thousands of pregnant people in Ohio who have to go through all of this. For those who are bearing this financial, emotional, and time-consuming burden, I send you all the good vibes that I have (plus the websites of Women Have Options, Preterm Access Fund, and Midwest Access Coalition, all local abortion funds that can help relieve some of the costs and associated headaches). Stay strong, queens.