Ana Rodriguez is the executive director of ACCESS Women's Health Justice,

Viewpoints: We can do more to clear barriers to abortion care

Published: Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 5E
Last Modified: Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012 - 11:05 am

There are certain dates in our history that mark the passage of something transcendent – something life-changing. And while many may not agree on the issue of abortion, the day the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark Roe v. Wade decision, making abortions safe and legal in the United States, it was life-changing for many women who stopped dying alone in what we called "abortion alleys."

The decision to end a pregnancy is not an easy or a careless one. Each woman makes this very complex and difficult decision after carefully considering what is best for herself and her family. But the right to safe and legal abortion means nothing if a woman does not have access to a local provider she knows and trusts. Throughout the nation, state legislatures have passed an unprecedented number of laws to restrict women's access to abortion. In 2011 alone, 92 laws were passed in 19 states that have limited abortion services for millions of women – four times the number of laws that had been passed in the previous two years.

But here in California, we are writing a different story. We work every day to make abortion care accessible for all women. From the signing of the Therapeutic Abortion Act in 1967, which made abortion legal five years before Roe, to the Contraceptive Equity Act and the Reproductive Privacy Act, California has a long history of supporting women's health and reproductive rights.

On this, the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I'm reminded why I work at such a great organization – ACCESS Women's Health Justice. Each year our toll-free bilingual Reproductive Healthline provides information and referral services to more than 1,000 women seeking reproductive health services and information, including abortions. They call from almost every county in California, but we work mainly with women from the Oregon border to Bakersfield, almost half of whom live in rural areas of the state.

More than half of people who call ACCESS are women of color; almost 40 percent are uninsured; and another 29 percent use Medi-Cal to access basic health care.

Our callers seek information about abortion, and many of these women receive practical support, which includes rides to abortion providers, housing and child care from our network of more than 100 active volunteers across the state. When volunteers are not available to directly assist, ACCESS provides funding, as needed, to our caller-partners to assist them with transportation and even abortion services.

Take the story of one woman who called ACCESS seeking our assistance to obtain abortion care. She lives with her four children, ages 16, 12, 4 and 3, in the Central Valley 100 miles from the nearest provider. "I must do this to be fair to my other children. I just cannot support and care for another child because my other children need me and I work nights to support us," the woman told our Healthline. Because there is no local abortion provider she had to find child care, borrow money for bus fare to and from San Francisco and find some place to stay before and after her procedure.

These are the types of hurdles that women face every day – hurdles that cause women to delay abortion care. No one should have to overcome these types of hurdles to access a simple, safe and legal medical procedure, and at ACCESS we were able to reimburse the woman for bus fare, provide her with transportation to a provider, and offer a home to stay in while in the city. There are many like her in this state who continue needing our assistance.

California has been at the forefront in removing barriers to reproductive health care, including abortion. In fact, the Guttmacher Institute, a nationally known institute advancing reproductive health, named California No. 1 in the nation for its public policy efforts to prevent unintended pregnancies. But we can do so much more.

More than half of California's counties do not have a regular abortion provider. Women in rural areas and those who are low income have an even harder time accessing early, safe abortions. We must find new ways for women, particularly those in rural areas, to gain access to trusted providers in their own communities so they can obtain early care.

As we mark Roe v. Wade this year, let us remember that each woman has her own personal story. We must work to make sure that each and every woman who makes her own personal decision regarding a pregnancy can do so without barriers of transportation, economics and inaccessible providers.

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