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Your Healthcare is not a Bureaucracy

By Julian Ober (she/her), University of Maine Women, Gender and Sexuality student and Mabel Wadsworth Center intern

Oftentimes when discussing abortions, we get caught up in the reasons why a person would have an abortion rather than the inherent autonomy they always hold regardless of if they are pregnant. According to the PEW Research Center, 61% of Americans support abortion access and this number has been trending upwards since 2015. Anti-abortion politicians, who represent a minority of the population that supports restrictive and archaic policies, have spun the narrative that your reproductive health care choices must be justifiable to the larger public opinion. This has led to exceptions clauses that we have seen amended into many bills across the country. What isn’t always clear is that these exceptions are almost completely inaccessible.

Jessica Valenti wrote in a recent article, “Since Roe was overturned, horror story after horror story has come out of states with ‘exceptions’ to their bans. A woman in Texas going septic, a Missouri woman with a doomed and deadly pregnancy, a 10 year-old rape victim in Ohio. All lived in states where their circumstances should have qualified them for abortions, yet none were able to access care.” When referencing the 10 year old from Ohio I was reminded of another Valenti article written almost exactly a year ago detailing the same circumstances, writing “Republican pundits and politicians cast aspersions on the story of a 10-year old girl in Ohio who had been raped and impregnated. It reminded me that to conservatives, there is no story good enough, no woman or girl [person] credible enough.” In the same vein as exceptions, the people who try to use the exceptions are not believed or taken seriously, and due to the time limits imposed by these same lawmakers they run out of time in their home states to access the healthcare they need.

Everyone should have access to the reproductive healthcare they want, and these bans often come from a place of misogyny and distrust of women. The narrative is clear: forced birth extremists believe women who have sex for their own pleasure deserve the “consequences of their actions,” while those who were assaulted or have health concerns get access in theory, but rarely in practice. This is of course not accounting for the trans folks who need this care as well that are erased and ignored in these policies. According to the Lozier Institute, less than 5% of abortions could theoretically fall under the exceptions clauses meaning 95% of people seeking care would be forced out of their state for basic healthcare, forced to continue their pregnancy, or forced to risk criminalization by seeking self-managed abortion. While this survey can be skewed because of its voluntary nature, the results are clear, most people have abortions for many reasons outside of the very rigid exception clauses. Even the language used in abortion policy consists of “Mother, and Women/Girls” when everyone is entitled to reproductive care and anyone may need it. When people are making critical decisions about their healthcare they should not have to justify their decision to the general public. What other healthcare practice would require that? None! Because your healthcare is not a bureaucracy.

In Maine, LD1619, which eliminates gestational limits among other improvements to abortion access, just went through the State House and passed by a slim margin. The following exception to abortion access past “viability” was proposed by Rep. Collings of Portland to be amended into the bill before it passed: “when the fetus is diagnosed with a lethal fetal anomaly; or, if the mother is a minor, when the minor’s pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.” Thankfully this failed, but once again we are seeing the exceptions falling only to those who were sexually assaulted or ill within specific definitions that could never account for every situation. Pregnant people are always people before anything else, and their autonomy doesn’t disappear at a certain stage of gestation. This is a continuation of many pushes across the country to strip people of their autonomy.

If we work under the guise that reproductive healthcare decisions must be justified or exempted, we are effectively ruling out this care entirely. The general public is not entitled to your reasoning for seeking abortion care, so legislation requiring you to publicly “defend” your choice is unjust.