A couple months ago I had the opportunity to interview Deborah about women’s experiences seeking abortions prior to Roe v. Wade. During the interview, Deborah shared her story of helping a fellow college student drink tea and turpentine to induce an abortion after visiting a doctor in 1970. See the interview below:
After the interview I asked Deborah why she chose to share this story, and she responded that this story, like many others, is part of the fabric of women’s lives. Women, she stated, faced and continue to face difficulty accessing basic health care services. It is through sharing our stories and our experiences that we give voice to the need to change this.
One month after interviewing Deborah, I attended an abortion speakout where a young person shared a similar story. They cited numerous challenges to accessing safe and legal abortion care including: inadequate funding, lack of parental consent, and significant discrimination from the health care system because they identified as transgender. Unable to access the care they needed and wanted, they decided to self-induce an abortion by drinking paint thinner from their parent’s garage. As they explained the effects of the paint thinner on their body, I was not only deeply saddened but also angry. I could not believe that I was hearing the same story from a peer my age. I was frustrated that the health care system refused to acknowledge that trans youth have abortions. I was frustrated that this young person could not ask for consent from their parents and could not obtain the money needed to have a safe and legal abortion. I was frustrated that as a society we have created laws that limit this person’s choice to ingesting paint thinner. Overall, I was deeply saddened that although as a movement we have made significant advances, some young people are still drinking turpentine.
The reality for some young people, like the person in my story, is that the formal legality of abortion had little effect on whether or not they could access safe abortion care services. Limitations to this access such as the Hyde amendment have institutionalized clear boundaries of who has access to safe abortion care and who does not. Low-income people, rural people, undocumented people, trans people, etc. face significant barriers to accessing safe and legal abortion care.
And despite the lack of access for many of the most marginalized people in our society, many leaders in the women’s rights movement continue to make statements that affirm the acceptance of they Hyde amendment. For example, this past year leaders have defended their work by assuring that no federal funding will go to abortion care. I wish that these leaders could also stand up and say, "And this is wrong. We need federal funding to support abortion care services so that this service is available to all people regardless of socioeconomic status." It is time that as a movement we all come out against discriminatory pieces of legislation like the Hyde amendment that leave some people with little choice but turpentine.
I also want to acknowledge and thank the many communities that are doing radical work to improve access to abortion care. Thank you to the abortion funds, the clinic escorts, the providers, the abortion doulas, and everyone that makes access possible. I also want to thank Deborah and others who have come forward with their abortion stories as we fight for access for all people.