As battle cries rise after the Supreme Court’s arguments on abortion rights, and city women applaud the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of a mailed abortion pill, women from remote regions where abortions are restricted know all too well the harsh realities of life without reproductive justice.
Over the last two months, living and traveling through Texas and Mississippi, I’ve witnessed firsthand the panic, rage, and resistance of women, liberal and conservative, who struggle to get any health care, no less reproductive health care.
The day the Texas ban went into effect, Nicole swore into the phone (last names are withheld due to safety concerns for the interviewees – Editor). “This vigilante law will destroy any rural woman’s chance to get any kind of help. They are such MF’s! I can’t believe they are going to get away with this!”
Mel, a Trump-supporting mom of a 21-year-old, angrily stated, “People think if you voted for Abbot, you agree with his ban. Many of us don’t! If my girl gets pregnant, I will do whatever it takes to get her an abortion. Period.” After the FDA announced the pill could be received via mail, Kathy, a woman from a ‘Sanctuary City for the Unborn,’ mockingly laughed, “The FDA approval is such a joke. There is no family planning allowed in my town. And we [women] pay the price.”
The price can be life-threateningly steep, especially for women in desolate, ultra-conservative regions.
Last November, Mark Lee Dickson, senior pastor of Sovereign Love Church told Baptist Press:
“For too long we have expressed our hatred for evil and our love for what is good, but we have neglected that part of Scripture which speaks of establishing justice in our city. I believe all of our cities need to have laws which protect pregnant women and their unborn children from the horrors of abortion.”
Determined to counter the consequences of these growing number of sanctuary cities and the abortion ban of Texas, organizations like Fund Texas Choice partner with clinics across the country to provide travel and lodging for Texas women seeking an abortion, flying them as far as Oregon and Washington.
“We are unapologetically pro-abortion. It is a legal procedure that all women should have access to,” said Rebecca. She went on to address the obstacles many rural women face:
“When you’re poor, remote, or a woman of color, or from harshly religious communities, these barriers can seem insurmountable. We will help any woman from anywhere in Texas get wherever she needs to go for an abortion.”
One of the clinics Fund Texas Choice partners with is in New Mexico. The director, communicating through a securely encrypted email and phone line, cautiously vetted me before inviting me to a private gathering of providers, advocates, legal experts, lawmakers, and everyday women fighting for reproductive justice.
To get to the women’s gathering two days away, I would need to leave the following morning. During the arduous eight hours, often on isolated two-lane roadways, I wondered, “What if instead of doing an article, I needed an abortion? Could I arrange an appointment and get the transportation in time? Would I feel safe in a strange city, at an unknown clinic eight hours from home? How would I explain my absence? What would I do with my kids? Who would I tell to make sure someone knew where I was in case I went ‘missing’?”
At the entry to the clinic’s courtyard, on a cloth-covered table sat a fresh bouquet of flowers, a mailing list, and name tags. Coffee, tea, and cookies were in the corner.
Over the next hour, women aged twenty to seventy filtered in filling dozens of chairs. In hushed tones, they introduced themselves. The first woman thanked the director for hosting this “radical event.” A twenty-something woman was preparing to talk publicly about her own abortion, hoping to break the stigma by going public about a very private matter. An immigration advocate had just moved from Lubbock, the nation’s largest ‘Sanctuary City for the Unborn.’ A doctor came from New York to learn about issues of these regions to better prepare young city graduates who might someday find themselves here. Two older women in their 70s spoke of the radicalizing moments over sixty years ago that drove them to fight for Roe vs. Wade, and that keep them fighting today.
The last woman to speak was an ACLU attorney. “States are watching Mississippi and Texas. What happens in these two cases will impact other legislation.” With so many women from Texas seeking help in Mississippi, the next day I headed westward to Jackson to the clinic at the center of the Supreme Court’s deliberations.
Jackson Women’s Health Organization (JWHO) sits on a knoll above the street. The Pink House, as many call it, is the only remaining clinic offering affordable abortion care to women living in or traveling to Mississippi.
There was no welcome table here. No flowers. No name tags.
Instead, at the corner, a man held a sign saying, “Dr. _x_ does abortions here.” Due to death threats, only out-of-state doctors perform abortions here. Up the gravel drive, two men in rainbow-striped vests directed a car pulling into the clinic. As the young woman stepped out, an older woman called out, “God loves your baby. Don’t you love your baby?” Escorts whisked the woman inside. A man wearing a “proud abortion witch” mask told me about a Texas couple that had driven first to Louisiana, then here searching for a clinic. “There are so many women coming from Texas, we added more doctors. We’re juggling hard to get enough help out here.”
A week later, Amanda Furdge, an outspoken abortion and reproductive rights advocate, spoke with me candidly about her own experience. Raised in rural Mississippi, the daughter of a preacher, she knows the impact of not having reproductive access or even sex education. She’s experienced the coercive approach of pregnancy crisis centers. Amanda knows the sinking feeling of hearing, “You’re too far along for an abortion in Mississippi.”
Through all this, she asserted, “It’s not about abortion, specifically. I love my daughter! All these laws are eroding our fundamental right to own our bodies. These laws are going to kill the folks you love to kiss. Your mom. Your sisters. Your aunties. The lady who bakes cakes at the cafeteria. The woman who could bear your child. Some women are going to make it through, but we’re going to lose some too.”
Her words hung heavy. Even with all my reporter know-how, it had taken me nine weeks to track down these resources. A woman in Texas gets six weeks to end her pregnancy. A woman in Mississippi, fifteen. The battle for so many women across the nation is far from over.
Carolyn Campbell is a former leadership and business coach, who left city life four years ago to better understand the rural/urban divide. She purposely lives on the average income of the rural women in a region she’s currently exploring to experience first-hand the challenges they face. Her writing addresses these issues, spotlighting local changemakers and activists. In addition to regional and national publications, her work has been featured on podcasts and radio throughout the country.