The Problem Of Access To Abortion In Small Town America

I grew up in Southern Illinois, where being a woman is tricky business. When people think of Illinois, they think of Chicago and forget the tiny towns 4+ hours south. I can remember hearing whispers in high school that a girl’s parents had to drive her all the way to St. Louis to have an abortion. Even then, I can remember wondering why women in this area have to go so far just to get a completely legal surgical procedure. I can remember this girl being ridiculed for her decision. People didn’t seem to understand that as a 14-15 year old girl, she wasn’t capable of caring for a child. Thankfully, her parents did understand and they supported her decision to end her pregnancy. Not everyone, especially in such a conservative area, is lucky enough to have parents who “get it.” I am very grateful my father was smart enough to make sure I was on the pill when he had even the slightest hint that I may already be interested in boys.

These days, there’s a crisis pregnancy center on Main Street of my hometown called “Hope Pregnancy Center,” where they will happily give you “pregnancy decision coaching”—which essentially amounts to merely shaming you and misleading you into not seeking an abortion, rather than offering any actual reproductive health care or counseling. There aren’t many safe places to go to seek an actual abortion referral.

If you do want a referral, your best bet is to drive an hour each way to a Planned Parenthood in nearby Evansville, Indiana. Although they don’t even perform abortions, they are nonetheless the target of daily protests. You’d think if these people were so mad about abortion, they would be happy this specific Planned Parenthood location is only providing birth control–the very thing that prevents abortion–but the cognitive dissonance is too strong.

I understand that this is a difficult political climate for abortion rights, but it seems crazy to me that so many girls in southern Indiana and Illinois are basically being forced into having children because many of them can’t afford to drive to St. Louis, Chicago, or Indianapolis to seek care. If you can’t afford a trip to have an abortion, you certainly can’t afford a child.

Studies show that children who grow up being raised by parents who don’t want them or parents who can’t properly take care of them grow up to be criminals. I have seen firsthand many of my classmates struggling with severe substance abuse, bouncing in and out of jail, and having baby after baby they can’t actually take care of. It’s an epidemic and I genuinely believe it has something to do with abortion being so hard to access here.

This isn’t some new trend, either. 10 years ago when I was in high school it was the same way. When will anything ever change? What can actually be done? Your main source of reproductive health information in your hometown shouldn’t be a crisis pregnancy center.

While these places say they don’t impose their religion on you, Jesus Christ is prominently mentioned on the site I was referred to when trying to ask Hope Pregnancy Center about their clinic. I’m sorry but I don’t think Jesus belongs in a conversation with a young girl who is pregnant and confused.

In order to achieve their goal of preventing abortion, many of these Crisis Pregnancy Centers deliberately pressure and misinform young women about abortion. They often falsely claim abortion can cause breast cancer, or they lead you to believe that having a child is much safer than having an abortion. They also say abortion severely impacts a woman’s future fertility. Also, these crisis pregnancy centers don’t openly advertise that they won’t actually help you find a place to get an abortion, banking on the fact that it’s easy to confuse or upset a teenager who is already confused and upset.

In this area of the country, like so many others, there are more of these Crisis pregnancy centers than there are abortion clinics. How are we supposed to exercise our right to legal abortion if clinics are too far away? Is the answer begging Planned Parenthood to open more facilities? Or is it grassroots fundraising to try to help girls out who can’t afford to get to a city to get the care they need? Or both? Clearly something needs to be done because many women in this country are being failed. It shouldn’t be so difficult to get a safe and legal medical procedure. There has to be more we can do.