Moms Need Abortion Access Too

Thursday, May 10, 2012

by Phyllida Burlingame

As a single mom, I’ve got much more on my plate than I can handle. Kids, work, childcare, bills—usually there’s at least one fire burning out of control, and I have to carefully weigh which needs my attention most at any given moment and how each decision will affect my kids.

Even though I’m a single mom, in some ways I’ve got it pretty easy—I have basic financial security and my own house, and I co-parent with my ex, giving me time for some of the other must-do things in my life. Many families aren’t so lucky, and every day they face significant hurdles due to a lack of supports like childcare, housing, and food security. But like me, they’re making decisions based on what they think is best for their children and families. This is something that all parents do.

So what happens when mothers face an unintended pregnancy or a problem with a pregnancy, something that has the potential to affect every aspect of our lives? As with everything, we look at it through our parenting lens, whatever the outcome may be.

I know, because I’ve been there. Nearly ten years ago, I made one of the toughest parenting decisions of my life: I terminated a much-wanted pregnancy. I won’t go into the reasons for this decision, I’ll just say this -- I made it for the well-being of my family, so I could be a good parent to the child I already had.

To anti-abortion activists, talking about abortion in the context of mothers’ day would seem an oxymoron at best. But, contrary to popular stereotypes about who gets abortions in our country, data show that the majority of women who terminate pregnancies already have children, and many cite the need to care for their children as a significant contributor to their decision.

When I decided to end my pregnancy, I was lucky to live in an urban area where I could access services locally while still caring for my then two-year-old daughter.

Many women aren’t so fortunate. In California, nearly half the counties lack an abortion provider, and women have to travel up to five hours to receive abortion care. This can create significant transportation, child care, and financial obstacles and can lead to them delaying accessing the abortion care they need.

I’m proud that this year the ACLU joined together with other organizations in California to sponsor Senator Christine Kehoe’s Safe and Early Access to Reproductive Health Care bill (SB 1338). This bill would have expanded abortion access by allowing nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives and physician assistants to provide early aspiration abortion.

These clinicians already provide the majority of women’s reproductive healthcare. By authorizing them to also provide early, safe abortion care, the bill would have allowed women to receive these services in their own communities from providers they already know and trust.

Although the bill was based on an extensive study by UC San Francisco that conclusively demonstrated that these health professionals can safely provide this early abortion care, it fell victim to politics and didn’t get the votes it needed this year.

This is so disappointing, because at a time when many other states are erecting egregious barriers to women’s reproductive health, in California we had an opportunity to go in the opposite direction.

But those of us who work on reproductive justice in California aren’t giving up We can’t put out all the fires for the women and families who make tough parenting decisions every day. But we must keep working to make sure they have access to the health care and other supports they need.

Phyllida Burlingame is the Reproductive Justice Policy Director at the ACLU of Northern California.

This blog is part of Strong Families Mama’s Day Our Way blog series. Make and send a custom Mama’s Day e-card at Strong Families is a national initiative led by Forward Together. Our goal is to change the way people think, act and talk about families.