On March 6, I learned I was pregnant. Five days later, as the COVID-19 pandemic approached and threatened to upend our lives, my doctor, my partner, and I decided together to terminate the pregnancy.
I understand what it means to be “pro-choice.” I have spent the past four years donating my time, talent, and money to Planned Parenthood whenever I can. I was (and still am!) a dedicated volunteer to support providing abortion services to anyone who wants it. Reproductive health services remain very much under threat, with some employers refusing to offer insurance coverage for contraceptives to their workers — a stance the Pennsylvania attorney general will oppose while arguing to the Supreme Court this week.
But during the coronavirus was the first time I needed abortion services myself.
The reasons for having an abortion vary for each person. My concerns about my own health, combined with anxiety about finances and the economic upheaval that has come with the coronavirus made our choice obvious — though it was not a decision we made lightly.
As I prepared to call Planned Parenthood, I watched as Philadelphia’s COVID-19 cases ticked up. When I made the appointment, I was consumed with fear about the coronavirus and anxiety about my own well-being. The gentle reassurances and generosity of spirit afforded to me by Planned Parenthood staff let me know that I was in great hands, and when I left the clinic, I felt far less fearful and anxious than I had been when I arrived.
In the following weeks, I kept my abortion secret from all but a few people. I watched as lawmakers began to restrict abortion care. In Ohio, under the guise of preserving PPE for frontline health-care workers, conservative lawmakers called to close abortion clinics, deeming abortion “elective surgery.” In Texas, the governor ordered abortion clinics to close, citing them as a procedure that wasn’t “immediately necessary” (a court later ruled that clinics can stay open). Indiana’s governor included abortion clinics in an executive order demanding that nonessential medical services close, a move praised by anti-abortion groups.
Abortion has always been an essential service and a time-sensitive medical procedure. Anti-abortion politicians are using a global pandemic to limit health access at a time when we need our leaders to expand that access to all people. This is not the time for politicians to pick and choose what is essential health care — instead, we should listen to doctors and public health experts. And the experts agree: Abortion is an essential, time-sensitive procedure for which a delay of several days or weeks can increase the risks considerably, or make the procedure completely inaccessible. Adding further barriers makes it harder to access safe, legal abortion.
In my home state of Pennsylvania, the state legislature takes time every session to attempt to limit legal abortion. In the midst of the current crisis, they introduced a bill to expand telemedicine, yet exclude from it medication for early term abortion, whereby abortion providers could supervise the use of abortion pills via videoconferencing or phone calls. At a time when it’s extremely dangerous to go anywhere, anti-abortion politicians in the Pennsylvania state legislature attempted to put abortion seekers in an impossible situation: to risk contracting COVID-19, or not have an abortion.
Fortunately for health care, this bill was vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf. Past attempts to restrict legal abortion in Pennsylvania have been thwarted by pro-choice activists and organizers, and to them, I am grateful. During a global pandemic, I was able to have a safe medical procedure when I needed one.
Now is not the time to restrict health care for our citizens. Now is the time to build our resolve and ensure that all people have free and open access to the health care they need — and yes, that means abortion, too.