|David S. Cohen|
David S. Cohen and Carole Joffe are the authors of the new book Obstacle Course: The Everyday Struggle to Get an Abortion in America. Cohen is a professor of law at Drexel University. Joffe is a professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco.
Q: Why did the two of you decide to write this book?
A: We wanted to convey the reality of abortion access in this country by focusing on the entire experience of getting an abortion -- from the moment someone finds out they’re pregnant to the actual procedure itself. Every step along the way (which is how the book is organized), there are unjustified barriers placed in people’s way.
Putting all this information in one place to convey the entire picture is important for people to understand abortion policy in this country.
At the same time, we wanted to show how it is that despite these obstacles almost one million patients per year are able to get an abortion. It is through their determination as well as the ingenuity of abortion providers that this happens, and we wanted to capture that as well.
Q: How did you choose the title "Obstacle Course" for the book, and what does that signify for you?
A: The title reflects the lengthy set of barriers that patients face when they try to get an abortion. Although for some rabid thrill seekers obstacle courses are fun diversions, for most people, an obstacle course is something standing in the way of getting to a goal.
For abortion patients in most states in this country, that’s exactly what they encounter when they look at the set of barriers they face in finding clinics, getting into clinics, paying for the procedure, being required to wait, and having lies forced upon them by legislatures.
What should be a simple path from deciding to terminate a pregnancy to getting this normal and safe form of medical care is instead an obstacle course.
Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?
A: We interviewed abortion providers, advocates, and volunteers in all 50 states and the two major territories of Puerto Rico and District of Columbia.
Our motivation to interview in all states, and not just “red” ones, was to be able to show the readers what it looks like when abortion care is allowed to proceed largely like any other health care service, that is when Medicaid pays for poor women, and when there are no irrelevant and cumbersome restrictions.
What especially surprised us was learning how much help abortion patients (the majority of whom are low income) needed, beyond paying for the procedure itself: just finding and getting to a clinic, arranging childcare for children left behind, arranging lodging when overnight stays were involved, and so on.
We were also surprised, and deeply moved, to learn about the crucial role played by the vast army of allies (mostly unpaid volunteers) who help with these needs, and who also provide essential escorting services at the site of clinics themselves, where patients are often accosted by very aggressive protestors.
Abortion care is dependent on these allies to a degree not true of any other health care service.
Q: What do you see looking ahead when it comes to abortion-related issues in the United States?
A: The future of abortion in the U.S. is unclear but very worrisome. We will shortly hear the Supreme Court’s decision on a case from Louisiana heard earlier this year, June v. Russo, that could further restrict abortion services, or even possibly overturn Roe v. Wade.
We actually don’t think that the Court will overturn Roe before the November election, but given the Court’s current composition, this could well happen after the election.
But whether Roe is overturned or not, one take-away from our book is that many people seeking abortions already live in a world in in which abortion is legal but barely accessible in their state and they must travel long distances to access abortion care.
Covid 19, of course, is making all the obstacles we mention in our book exponentially harder: the loss of people’s income, the dangers or travel, and the opportunistic closing of clinics by red state governors are all affecting abortion care currently.
As always, however, abortion providers are rising to the occasion and devising creative strategies to make abortion care as safe as possible in this situation.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Carole is embarking on a study that will document how abortion providers are responding to the challenges presented by the pandemic. David is considering new projects, including looking at the importance of the Supreme Court following precedent, such as Roe v. Wade.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Probably not necessary to say to readers of this blog, but if you care about reproductive rights and reproductive justice, you have to vote!! And not just at the presidential level, but all the way down the ballot to primaries and state and local races.
If one has any doubts that elections have consequences, the 2018 elections produced women Democratic governors in Michigan, Maine, and Kansas, and abortion has been protected from unnecessary restrictions because of these elections. Even the most obscure local election can determine whether zoning for a new clinic can take place.
Also, for readers who are able to, volunteering to escort at your local clinic is incredibly valuable and donating to your local abortion fund can make the difference between someone getting an abortion and raising a child.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb