Eight years of working as a patient advocate in an independent abortion clinic has taught me that anyone, at any time — no matter their race, class, or personal beliefs — may need an abortion. I learned to never be surprised at the patient, to not blink at the circumstance, and to trust the people in front of me when they tell me why they came to the clinic and what they need.
Today, I am struck by the fundamental disconnect of the personal and political. As a major political force behind new and harmful barriers that make abortion difficult or even impossible to access – including H.R. 36, a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks – Rep. Tim Murphy (R., Pa.) has been on my mind for months. This week, it was revealed that he urged a former partner to end a pregnancy — undeniably at one of the very abortion-care providers that Murphy himself has callously worked to shut down.
Those of us who provide abortion care know from experience that all kinds of people have abortions — including many people who personally and politically oppose abortion. But the public reaction to Murphy’s hypocrisy opens up a dialogue that I am all too familiar with:
Who gets to have an abortion — and why? What separates Murphy, or his partner, from the rest of us?
According to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly half of all pregnancies among U.S. women are unintended, and about four in 10 of these ended in abortion. Does Murphy think that the national statistics don’t apply to his family and partners, or is it just that he knows that the women in his life experience a degree of privilege that will shield them from the burdens and barriers he’s set up for others? While those with enough financial and other resources will likely always be able to access an abortion if they need one, the majority of patients are faced with far greater challenges.
Medically unnecessary restrictions, bans on insurance coverage for abortion, and anti-abortion extremists have contributed to the closure of almost 30 percent of the independent abortion clinics in the United States. The landscape of abortion care in this country is becoming increasingly sparse, forcing patients to travel long distances, take time away from work, find child care, and scrounge for the cash to cover both the cost of the procedure and additional out-of-pocket expenses. While the cost of abortion is something Murphy may not have worried about, this hurdle is one that providers and the Women’s Medical Fund – an abortion fund that assists with the cost of care – know all too well.
Murphy’s extramarital affair is of no concern to me, but this double standard is. Murphy and other “pro-life” politicians keep proving, again and again, that they do not truly care about women, families, or children. These legislators invest considerable time and energy into shaming, punishing, and burdening people who need abortion care, rather than working to create a world where people can raise healthy families in safe communities.
If “pro-life” politicians really want people to be able to raise children in safe communities, they should work to end the epidemic of gun violence and police brutality in this country. If Congress truly cares about the health and well-being of children, they have an opportunity to right the wrong committed when they let health coverage for children lapse last month. And if they truly want people to have healthy pregnancies when the time is right, they would call for an end to the Trump administration’s explicit efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act.
Every day, people we love make important decisions about pregnancy and parenting: whether to have an abortion, to carry a pregnancy to term, to parent or co-parent, or to adopt. We need leadership to show up for the people and families of Pennsylvania and stop proposing harmful laws that harm us all — including those they care about, too.
Abortion providers — and particularly the independent abortion providers that I represent — would have helped Murphy and his partner, regardless of the politics played.
We would not have discussed the millions of dollars clinics have been forced to spend in order to comply with the stream of medically unnecessary regulations that he and his colleagues impose on abortion care providers.
We would have given him and his partner compassionate, safe care, free from judgment.
We would have shown compassion for their unique circumstances, concern for their health, and respect for their decisions. Today, I am looking to leadership in Harrisburg and in Washington to do the same.
Erin Grant of Philadelphia is co-chair of the Abortion Care Network’s board of directors. firstname.lastname@example.org