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Back-Alley Abortions in 2011: How Anti-Choice Zealots Force Women to Go to Dangerous Clinics Like Dr. Kermit Gosnell's

Thanks to the anti-choice movement, poor women throughout the U.S. cannot afford safe abortions and are sometimes forced to make extremely dangerous choices.

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Many patients would visit Dr. Gosnell for late second-trimester and illegal third-trimester abortions. Limited access and information can delay women seeking an abortion.

“In our experience,” says Schewel, “we find a lot of women do what we call chasing the fee,” where poor women try to raise money for an abortion that gets more and more expensive as the pregnancy progresses. She says that stigma and misinformation also delay the procedure.

“The huge majority of abortions in this country are done in the first trimester, even first eight weeks, of pregnancy. Again, it’s about access: people not knowing where to go, that they even can get an abortion. To me what’s most striking is that throughout the globe and throughout history, women will do whatever it takes to end a pregnancy that they don’t want to carry to term. And this is an example. Whether abortion is legal or illegal, whether it's accessible or not accessible, women who need to end a pregnancy will do whatever they need to do.”

The Hyde Amendment bars the spending of federal Medicaid dollars on abortions. States like New York fund abortion services with state Medicaid dollars. But Pennsylvania, like 26 other states, does not. NARAP Pro-Choice America gave Pennsylvania an F grade for reproductive rights, ranking it 41st out of 50.

According to a 2006 study by the Women’s Medical Fund, there were 4,500 women covered by Medicaid in the five-county Philadelphia area who wanted to terminate a pregnancy and could not afford to. Making things all the more difficult, most health-care providers do not perform abortions.

“If doctors felt more comfortable performing abortions in private offices,” says Corrigan, “if more hospitals provided abortion, if there wasn’t such a stigma around abortion, we wouldn’t see women dying.”

There is a two-tier reproductive health system in the United States, and even pro-choice politicians seem loath to upset the status quo. Rural women throughout the country lack access to abortion clinics, including women in 82 percent of Pennsylvania counties. But even in cities like Philadelphia, home to a number of clinics, cost can be an insurmountable obstacle.

”Pro-choice politicians want to talk about keeping abortion legal but don’t want to talk about restoring federal funding for abortion,” says Corrigan. “That’s part of this tragedy: we’re willing to let women die as long as our suburban mothers and daughters can get an abortion.”

Political opponents of abortion are already making use of the Philadelphia story to campaign for tighter restrictions on abortion.

In recent years, anti-abortion activists have cited the high rates of abortion among black women, calling abortion a form of "genocide" against the community. There is no small degree of irony--and cynicism--in the conservative campaign given the right’s history of blaming young and poor welfare recipients for their fertility.

And in states throughout the country, conservatives have been chipping away at reproductive rights through legislation requiring ultrasounds prior to abortions or laws recognizing “fetal pain.” On the national level, many advocates accuse Democrats of lessening their commitment to abortion rights. In many ways, policies on abortion rights have been heading in reverse.

“This was like a pre- Roe v. Wade clinic,” Schewel says. “And I think that as abortion access becomes narrower and narrower and more and more limited, there will be more and more of these types of providers.”

Daniel Denvir is a journalist in Philadelphia.

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