Demanding Bodily Autonomy

Leaks aside and rumors be damned, when the Supreme Court finally overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday, effectively ending federal protections of abortion rights, and repudiating the original 1973 decision […]

abortion is a human right

Leaks aside and rumors be damned, when the Supreme Court finally overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday, effectively ending federal protections of abortion rights, and repudiating the original 1973 decision guaranteeing those rights, that punch to the gut changed America as we know it, for women’s freedoms over their own bodies and minds (SCOTUS’ decision also effectively struck down the 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that maintained the rights established in Roe V Wade).

The SCOTUS decision could change Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and its surrounding counties (where abortion is still legal and safe) in November, depending on whether voters select Josh Shapiro or Doug Mastriano as its next Governor. As with New Jersey, California and Oregon, our state’s laws continue, and will continue to permit abortions. That’s the good story. The bad story is that there there have been lawsuits with the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services over PAs restrictions on using Medicaid funding for abortions, and, even word that anti-abortion constitutional amendments are being planned for 2022 to bypass Pennsylvania Supreme Court and the Governor to restrict reproductive rights in Pennsylvania by amending the state’s Constitution.

With that, the Philadelphia Weekly spoke to five local women in the abortion/health care field – to some in the clinics and some helping to fund abortion – to give a clearer picture of what has been since Friday, what is and what could be.

Elicia Gonzales, Abortion Liberation Fund of Pennsylvania

Created in 1985 in response to the aforementioned Medicaid ban on coverage for abortions, the Abortion Liberation Fund of PA – covering ten counties in the state including Philly – generates its revenue from everyday folks to ensure its ability to fund those unable to pay for abortions. The largest and oldest fund of its kind in Pennsylvania, in 2021, the ALFoPA gave out just under $667,000 to about 3,200 women, and are slated, in 2022 (fiscal year ending this week) to give out just under $700,000 to those in need. Their helpline operates five-days-a-week.

“We have been telling people, since Friday, that abortion is older than this country,” says Gonzales. “Older than legislatures and courts, abortion has been here since the beginning of time. After last week’s decisions, people will still need abortions and people will still get abortions.”

Gonzales has also been reminding those confused by the harsh immediacy of SCOTUS’ decision that abortion is still legal in the state, and that ALFoPA partners with abortion clinics in-and-around the state. “Our organizing team put together a robust toolkit as to knowing your enemy, knowing your power and knowing your rights – knowing how to access abortions, care and funding.”

Fearful of anti-abortion protesters and stunned by the depths of what Gonzales, says “what this country will do to perpetuate white supremacy,” the ALFoPA soldiers on.

Despite abortions being legal in Pennsylvania, since the 1980s, Gonzales mentioned its financial difficulties again, before stating the current SCOTUS decision makes its possibilities further out of reach to those most on the receiving end of systemic oppression. “What this means for us, an abortion fund with eight full-time staffers, is that we need to be prepared for the influx of people, beyond our borders, travelling to PA for care if abortion has been made illegal in their state,” says Gonzales. “That is neighboring states and those opting to fly here because our airport is more affordable. And while we’ll embrace them with open arms, I’m nervous because our fund was, already, nowhere meeting the need. We have to 3,200 people last year, but those who needed money was closer to 6,600.”

Going forward, funding and resourcing one’s local abortion fund is crucial to making sure those who need and want abortions can get them, “no matter their income, zip code or reason,” states Gonzales. Volunteering at clinics with the increase in already-emboldened, anti-abortion violence is needed. “This is something that people don’t like to hear because it doesn’t feel immediate, but because abortion restrictions is white supremacy in action, it does require everyone who is non-Black to interrogate their own anti-Blackness and do some healing around that.”

The future of the Abortion Liberation Fund should see the organization having formulated more of its plan to provide community care, and making sure that care covers the before-during-and-after of every abortion – along with creating a physical hub where there’ll give out everything from condoms to diapers, and pushing people to vote for the legislation proper to their cause.

“Financial barriers are but one way that people aren’t able to access abortion,” says Gonzales. “Stigma and shame, too, are barriers we must quell. Any imagery around The Handmaids Tail and coat hanger references are harmful and perpetuate stigma and shame, so calling for language and images that are affirming is advisable…. We need to care for community.”

Signe Espinoza, Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates

Though lobbying, political work and education is key to this policy and advocacy arm of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania, this 501 c 4, is still charged with the mission of protecting and expanding access to sexual reproductive healthcare. And, as has been clearly stated as a new protest mantra in dissing SCOTUS, “abortion is healthcare.”

“The news, while expected, is devastating,” says Espinoza. “We’re outraged and processing emotions over the fact that the Supreme Court has gone against the American people, 80 % of whom support a woman’s access to safe legal abortion. It’s a gut punch… but we’re channeling this outrage into action.”

PPP’s Advocates’ busywork, at this point, is continuing to work with legislators and dipping into political work, to ensure abortion is safe and legal in this state. Boots on the ground, Espinoza’s job is to harness the equally-outraged members of the public ready to mobilize into advocacy and action, whether that means volunteering at the clinics and at the polls, as well as sharing their abortion stories during a time of stigma. “We need to tap into those folks, and plug them into our programming where we need them,” states Espinoza. “To keep our issue front-and-center, politically as – though abortion is legal in Pennsylvania – there is always risk when talking about November.”

Looking to achieve, in Pennsylvania, a pro-sexual and reproductive health “trifecta – legislative dominance in the House, the Senate and the Governor’s mansion” – means keeping the champions that abortion has in both chambers, while sustaining the Governor’s mansion,” says Espinoza. “That means we have to flip some seats, keep what we have, and that the Governor’s race, the last line of defense provided to us by Governor Wolf stays solid. He has always offered unwavering support for us, and continued to use his veto power to protect access to abortion in Pennsylvania. And we know that we have a commitment from candidate Josh Shapiro to do so.”

Looking at the onslaught of positive energy and levels of committed involvement she is witnessing from those inside and outside Planned Parenthood’s pro-abortion and sexual health stance, Espinoza states that there is only one way to look at the present and the future. “Today we grieve. Tomorrow, we organize. There is a lot of power in our movement. The Supreme Court and anti-abortion legislators in this state are outnumbered. And the need to support safe legal abortions cuts across party lines…. We woke up on Friday as one of those states that support abortion, where our incredible health centers and clinics across the state continue to provide sage and legal abortions. We also want people to know that there is a Constitutional amendment brewing in the legislature, that has been moved out of a Senate committee – Senate Bill 956 – that is not just a regular policy proposal. It is an amendment to PA’s Constitution. We have to stress that that is the type of proposal that wont matter who is Governor.  This type of Anti-Abortion legislation… they’re trying to do anything and everything to legislate our bodies behind closed doors. We need to pay attention to this Constitutional Amendment proposal, because goes beyond abortion care – it will make it state policy to protect the life of unborn children from conception, which effects and will have implications for IBFs, contraception, miscarriage care and so forth. So, stay alert.”

Melissa Reed, Planned Parenthood Keystone

Unlike Signe Espinoza’s legislative path, Planned Parenthood Keystone directly involves health care and abortion clinics in the area and on the street, and has, along with her staff, spent the last few days reassuring their clients that abortion is legal in PA, and that their appointments were still on. “Misinformation is our greatest enemy right now, as we are ready to care for patients,” says Reed. “Even though there were anti-abortion protestors outside of our clinics, say in York, PA, our people were there providing compassionate care. Everyone who came for, and comes for, an abortion will receive that same care.”

Along with eight health care centers around the state, Planned Parenthood Keystone is readying to open a new center in Lancaster, PA (Lindsey Maudlin represents Southeast Pennsylvania centers which include Philadelphia). Openings aside, Planned Parenthood Keystone have been anticipating the destruction of Roe V Wade, ever since the new Right makeup of SCOTUS came into view during the Trump administration.

“How this impacts our clinics is that we expect to see an additional 8,500 patients coming into Pennsylvania and utilizing our services,” says Reed. “We have had to hire additional staff, expand our appointment availability and are looking to raise additional money through our Fund for Choice to help cover the costs of care. We are also increasing the gestational age to which we provide abortion. We know that when people have to travel, and make a longer journey to get abortion care, that pushes out the gestational age.”

Reed says that Planned Parenthoods around the state need clinic escorts to provide safe passage, “a warm smile and an emotional physical shield for patients as they go into our centers, as there are opponents to abortion, outside, who are becoming more emboldened. We need people to write their legislators, in opposition, as Pennsylvania is actively working to pass Constitutional amendments to stop abortion and other bills to reduce access. Voting and donating money to our Fund of Choice is also essential… it is devastating thinking about the real impact that this will have on people, especially already-marginalized communities such as Black and Brown women. They already have the worst outcomes and face incredible heath inequities.”

Amanda Kifferly, The Women’s Centers

The vice president for abortion access for the Women’s Centers of the Northeast, proudly serves Philadelphia with its offices at 8th & Arch, and prouder still that it remains of the few, independent abortion providers.

“Our motto has been, 100% abortions, 0% shame,” says Kifferly. “Abortion providers have been dealing with what would and could be for years, so we’ve been prepared emotionally and structurally. We’re always ready to get to work. Even, last Friday when I was pulling into work, and dealing with angry protestors, we had to make sure that for anyone coming in for an abortion on such a sadly momentous day were welcomed with kindness and love, and that they were having a compassionate and safe abortion.”

Kifferly wants to make sure her patients continue to have safe, compassionate abortions from caring clinicians, and goes out of her way to make certain that the Women’s Centers are open every day that they can be (the clinics’ phone lines are 24/7), and have been fielding calls, per usual, from across the United States. “Including those outside of the country from service people,” says Kifferly.

To continue to do abortions, safely and without fear in Pennsylvania, Kifferly stresses that locals must vote for Josh Shapiro as he is the only candidate dedicated to women’s health as was/is Governor Tom Wolf. “We’ve got to get out the vote, and elect pro-choice folks at the state level. If not, we’re going to get push back. See, in Pennsylvania, we provide abortion care to the state limit – we cannot provide abortion beyond 24 weeks.  There is already something in pace that prevents care beyond a certain stage. Any rollback would be disastrous. If Philadelphia were not able to provide this care, it would be disastrous. The only way to prevent the worse from happening is to replace Republican lawmakers. We need people to vote on election day, and stand our ground. Pennsylvanians do not wish to lose their access to bodily autonomy, so we need to protect that. We need to show the nation what it looks like to rally in support of the majority, and protect ourselves against these crazy restrictions against our bodies.”

    • A.D. Amarosi's Headshot

      A.D. Amorosi is a Philadelphia-based journalist who, along with Philadelphia Weekly, writes for numerous local, national and international publications including Variety and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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