Social Issues

US abortion deserts where women have been stripped of rights

By Lucia Leal

Washington, May 6 (efe-epa).- When Alicia received the news it was a blow: Texas had banned abortions during the coronavirus crisis.

More than a month later, the teenager still doesn’t know whether she will be able to terminate her pregnancy in the state, one of four in the United States that has taken advantage of the pandemic to restrict access to abortion clinics.

The US is dotted with so-called “abortion deserts,” areas where people have to drive over 100 miles (160 kilometres) to reach the nearest clinic.

These spaces have spread with the coronavirus crisis, leaving millions of women in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee stripped of their right to choose.

The vetoes in these states have harmed poor and undocumented women the most, despite doctors warning of the risks attached to postponing these procedures.

“I am confined to my family and trying to keep it a secret. I am concerned that I will not be able to get an abortion in time. I don’t know what to do,” says Alicia (not her real name), who Efe spoke to via rights organization We Testify.

The 19-year-old has been in a state of limbo since late March when Texas announced abortion clinics a non-essential service during the pandemic and threatened people offering to do them with six months prison.

Although a court forced the state to restore access to abortion clinics on 22 April, Alicia still has no appointment and is now desperate at over 12 weeks pregnant.

According to Nancy Northup, Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) head, Texas clinics have huge waiting lists and it will take weeks if not months to see all patients.

The consequences of this go beyond exceeding the legal limit to terminate a pregnancy in conservative states which is at around 20 weeks.

At least 1,000 women worldwide will die from dangerous practices to terminate unwanted pregnancies if abortion restrictions increase by just 10 percent during the pandemic, according to an April estimate by the Guttmacher Institute, a research centre on sexual and reproductive health and rights in the US.

Bhavik Kumar, a doctor who conducts abortions in Houston, Texas, is very concerned after receiving calls in recent weeks.

“The scariest thing is when people start asking, what can I do?” the doctor, who works for the Planned Parenthood organization, the largest network of reproductive health clinics, tells Efe.

“During this time, some of the questions that come up are, well, if you’re not able to help me, I read about this herb on the internet or about this vitamin, or something else. Perhaps there was something physical that they can do. Their questions are centred around, how do I become not pregnant?”

Practising abortions in the Bible Belt has become an increasing challenge in recent years, with clinics being forced into closure due to laws designed to making their work impossible.

For Northup, the vetoes during the pandemic are part of a campaign by many states to limit access to abortion and getting the Supreme Court to allowing them to ban it.

“These are states that have long had this as an ideological goal to ban abortion, and they are taking advantage, frankly, of the situation to do that,” she says.

“States like Texas are willing to use any excuse to try to meet this ideological goal of theirs, which is a violation of the Constitution, and I think it brings up again, squarely, that they are willing to abuse state power to deny women their rights,” Northup adds.

The main argument of the four states that have restricted abortion rights was they needed to reserve personal protective equipment to treat Covid-19 patients.

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