In the almost 50 years that Roe v. Wade passed 7-2 in the Supreme Court, abortion has changed drastically in America, but not as far forward as activists of the past may have hoped. Fierce abortion advocates and lawyers Kathryn Kolbert and Julie F. Kay explore this in their new book, Controlling Women: What We Must Do Now to Save Reproductive Freedom.

For anyone wanting to learn more about abortion access and the hidden hurdles, personal stories and complete history of the fight for reproductive justice, Controlling Women is a must read. Regardless of your knowledge of the topic, every feminist can learn more. 

Kolbert and Kay share their experiences since entering the reproductive justice fight from the legal point of view and provide an in-depth history of abortion restrictions with resources and narratives of abortion seekers.

Abortion is always a multi-faceted conversation. Each state has different laws, so based on where you are, everything changes. Those that can afford to travel to states with fewer restrictions are the lucky ones.

Kolbert and Kay explain that restrictions perpetuate stereotypes and continue to make abortion inaccessible for many, especially rural, low-income or pregnant people of color. They founded the Center for Reproductive Rights to help abortion seekers through advocating inside and outside of the courtroom.

In 1992, Kolbert argued in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the second landmark abortion case, but this time, the Court created further burdens on abortion seekers, adding parental consent and waiting periods while also upholding the fundamental right to abortion under Roe v. Wade.  Amendment was still running rampant after being passed in 1976. Hyde blocks federal Medicaid funding for abortion services, which impacts pregnant people of color the most. In 2015, 31 percent of Black women were on Medicaid and 27 percent of Hispanic women, according to the book. Although some states have overturned this, 34 states follow Hyde restrictions with South Dakota being the only state with a more restrictive ban than the federal standard.

Kolbert and Kay emphasized that their fight centered on abortion seekers who had no access, as they were the ones falling through the cracks – getting unsafe abortions and even inducing miscarriages because of the lack of autonomy their state provides.

Exploring Abortion Access Today

Today, 89 percent of U.S. counties do not have a single abortion provider. Due to state regulations, this can mean that even the abortion pill cannot legally be mailed to you in your state, and due to telehealth restrictions, you may have to go to a USPS locker in a neighboring state. If you can afford the trip, that is.

Thirteen states have fewer than six abortion providers statewide and six of these only have one. Many under-resourced states are also clustered together, which creates “abortion provider deserts” over wide areas like North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. These three states only have four total providers over a landmass of nearly 250,000 square miles.

It has often been asked: why doesn’t Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics expand past highly populated cities or suburbs? The simple answer: anti-choice terrorists and TRAP laws.

“The extreme violence and intimidation deliberately aimed at doctors, clinic staff and patients, along with the massive destruction of property, instilled fear in medical professionals and their allies, dissuaded younger doctors from becoming abortion providers, and drove a wedge between abortion providers and mainstream medicine,” write Kolbert and Kay.  

TRAP laws, targeted restrictions on abortion providers exist to provide even further barriers, can restrict the number of facilities in the state, require sizing for rooms, corridors and even janitor closets – but the TRAP law that hurts rural abortion seekers the most are location requirements. This forces some abortion providers to be within 30 miles of a hospital or even a certain distance away from schools, creating impossible standards for rural communities and leaving them without care.

Empowering Future Abortion Seekers 

Kolbert and Kay explain that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, nine states already have trigger laws in place to go into effect immediately and for other states, abortion could become a criminal offense.

Much of the conversations that Kolbert and Kay were in discussed who deserves an abortion and who does not, but they say it isn’t that simple – everyone deserves access to abortion care, regardless of their stage of pregnancy, race, income level and more. Controlling Women doesn’t leave us without hope. In the last chapters, the book goes over the future of abortion care in America and what we can do as feminists to fight for all abortion seekers and create a more fair and just reproductive justice system.

“Let’s capitalize on our anger and outrage with additional protests and concrete demands…The possibilities are endless. Pick your issue, brainstorm with your creative allies, expand your coalition, and join the movement. It’s time now,” they conclude.

In honor of Kolbert and Kay and every abortion seeker of the past, present and future let’s move forward together fearlessly for better resources. Donate to abortion funds in your area, read literature like Controlling Women and learn about the access issues that your state implements, attend pro-choice rallies, call your senators and congresspeople and most of all – show up, whether you’ve had an abortion or not, the fight is for us all.

Controlling Women carefully explains the landscape of abortion access in America while keeping readers informed and encouraged to fight for better options. Pre-dating Roe v. Wade all the way to the modern age, Controlling Women provides a comprehensive look at what has changed but more so, what we are still waiting on.

Sam Stroozas

Sam Stroozas is the sexual health and reproductive justice fellow for Rebellious Magazine and a freelance journalist based in Chicago covering gender and social justice issues. Follow her on Twitter @samstroozas.