Iowa abortion rights activists work to preserve access
Francine Thompson has worked on the front lines of abortion access for decades. As the director of a reproductive health clinic in Iowa City, she said overturning Roe v. Wade last month was devastating.
“There’s a lot of confusion, there’s a lot of fear among customers,” Thompson said. “There is definitely a level of stress on the part of the staff about what is going to happen as well. But we are working really hard to continue providing abortion services because they are still legal in Iowa.
The Emma Goldman Clinic opened shortly after the 1973 Roe decision legalized abortion nationwide.
Thompson said the number of people visiting the clinic may actually increase since Roe’s cancellation, as abortion bans in other states push people into Iowa.
But it’s unclear whether abortion will remain legal in Iowa for very long.
“It’s going to be different, but we’re going to continue to be here,” Thompson said. “But the entire reproductive justice community is truly hurt, outraged, devastated and, at this point, rallying.”
Recent court rulings have opened the door to abortion restrictions in Iowa and across the country. Abortion is still legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks of pregnancy, but the governor is asking the courts to reinstate the ban on most abortions as early as the sixth week of pregnancy.
Thousands of Iowans have joined protests in recent weeks to demand that abortion remain legal. Some abortion rights activists are also gearing up to preserve access for Iowans, no matter what.
“There are a lot of meetings to coordinate care between states because so many people are going to have to cross borders to access abortion,” said April Clark, board member of the Iowa Abortion Access Fund and nurse at Planned Parenthood.
The fund has seen a recent surge in donations, and Clark said it has allowed the group to more than double its financial support for people who need help paying for their abortions.
“People are really scared of what’s going to happen and whether they’ll still be able to get care or not,” Clark said. “So that will also help people who, you know, if we lose access to abortion in Iowa, this increase in funding will help them be able to afford to go to another state where it’s still legal, like Minnesota or Illinois.”
Iowans have held raffles, bake sales and other fundraisers to support access to abortion. Clark said there’s even a new group of pilots volunteering to ferry people in their private planes to abortion appointments.
“It’s pretty amazing how much collaboration and time people put in because most of us are all volunteers,” she said.
Clark said she’s seen Iowans travel out of state to get abortions before, as bans in other states push people into Iowa and fill appointments.
Iowa has five clinics that perform abortions. Three clinics provide procedural services and medical abortions, and two only offer the drug option, which is a two-pill regimen used early in pregnancy. Nearly 80% of abortions in Iowa in 2020 were medical abortions, data shows from the Iowa Department of Public Health.
There is also a medical abortion telehealth service operating in Iowa and 14 other states called carafem.
“We see telehealth as a sort of pressure relief valve for in-clinic services,” said Melissa Grant, COO of carafem.
She said people wanting an abortion can make an appointment by video with a doctor. The patient should also have an ultrasound as required by Iowa law.
“Once we see this, as long as the client is indeed less than 11 weeks pregnant, the doctor goes ahead and sends an order to an online pharmacy, and the medications are shipped directly to the client’s home or at any address of his choice in Iowa. in a confidential, discreet box with full information on how to use them for home abortion,” Grant said.
She said this option doesn’t work for everyone, but it can be more affordable and help people avoid travel, while still leaving clinic appointments open for those who need them. Grant said carafem will monitor any changes in the law in Iowa and provide as many options as possible within the limits of the law.
If abortion is banned in Iowa, telehealth abortions would also become illegal.
A new group has posted on social media an offer to provide abortion pills to Iowans who request them for self-directed abortions, regardless of the law. The band declined to speak with IPR for this story.
Medical experts say abortion pills are safe and effectiveand they are easier to get in some other countries than in the United States. But Grant said there can be legal risks in getting your own pills, and it’s best to have a doctor check in on an abortion.
“People shouldn’t have to settle for safe, effective drugs that have been used for over 20 years in this country – you shouldn’t have to seek them outside our country in less than desirable circumstances. “, said Grant. “But I think we’ll see more.”
Abortion rights advocates say Iowans who want to maintain abortion access should donate to groups working there, vote for people who support legal abortion, and share stories. sources of accurate information on where abortions are available.
They also said it was important to continue efforts to ensure everyone has access to affordable contraception.
“A total abortion ban in Iowa doesn’t end the need for abortions, and it doesn’t end the need for the Emma Goldman Clinic,” Francine Thompson said. “We will continue to be here. We provide critical and essential reproductive health care services, and these will be needed even more when there is no access to abortion.