Human rights, privilege, and why I bowl for abortion access

National Abortion Access Bowl-a-thon

I had to pay for my abortion out-of-pocket.

Luckily, I had a modest but steady income. The out-of-pocket price of $400 for a first-trimester abortion was a big unexpected cost. But I could afford it. My boyfriend at the time contributed half. I cut back on take-out, downgraded to drinking 40s, and kept an eye on my balance for a few weeks. That was that.

If I had needed an abortion a year earlier, when I had recently moved to New York City and was making just enough for rent and eating sandwiches for every meal, I wouldn’t have had the money. But even then I could have called my parents and they would have unquestionably lent me whatever I needed. And if my parents didn’t happen to be supportive, middle-class, pro-choice folks, I could have still depended on at least half a dozen friends to pool together the funds.

This is all to say: I am a very privileged lady. Even as an underemployed recent college grad, I was still seriously privileged. The cost of an abortion would never, ever have prevented me from getting one.

But I know that the very first thing I did when I found out I was pregnant was check to make sure I had enough in my account to cover the cost of an abortion. In those initial moments of anxiety, holding two positive pregnancy tests and trying to figure out how to get unpregnant as soon as humanly possible, knowing I wouldn’t have to scramble to come up with the money was an enormous relief.

The U.S.’s commitment to human rights involves a rhetorical nod and some half-hearted policy. Theoretically, at least, we believe there are some things that all people should be entitled to regardless of their ability to pay. Although the public school system is plagued by inequality, we pay lip service to the idea that every child, rich or poor, deserves an education. Although our social safety net is relatively flimsy and filled with holes, it exists because we tend to believe that people shouldn’t go hungry or fall into poverty when they’re laid off or die because of lack of health care.

We do this because we know that we all benefit from a free, educated and healthy society. And also because we know that basic things like education, food, and medical care are necessary to the pursuit of happiness and that if we don’t want that promise to be a total lie, we should at least pretend these things are rights granted to all instead of privileges enjoyed by the few.

But there is no pretense when it comes to abortion. The right to abortion is not a true right in this country. It is treated as a negative right when it’s actually a positive one. It is allowed to be systematically denied to many women simply because some people don’t like it. Roe v. Wade may mean the government can’t prevent you from ending an unwanted pregnancy, but the Hyde Amendment ensures that’s only true if you can pay for an abortion yourself.

The right to choose without federal funding for abortion is like the right to an education without a public school system. It’s a mean joke.

Abortion does not just happen. Unlike the right to free speech or to assembly or to worship, the government cannot protect the right to choose simply by getting out of the way. Exercising this particular right requires paying for a pretty expensive medical procedure. And as long as that procedure is excluded from coverage under federally-funded health care programs, it’s a right that is meaningless to millions of women.

We have a word for a right that you can only access if you can afford to pay for it: it’s called a privilege. And that’s what being able to safely and legally terminate a pregnancy is in the U.S.

And so we’re bowling for abortion access again this year to raise money to help women who live paycheck to paycheck get the abortions they need. And, frankly, I hate it. Because these women shouldn’t have to rely on charity in order to control their reproductive lives. Because the need for abortion funds is evidence of a complete failure to uphold any semblance of equality when it comes to abortion rights. Because I want abortion to be federally funded now.

But until it is, I’ll keep donating. As one of the privileged women who actually has a true right to choose—and has used it gratefully—it’s my duty to pay it forward to all the women who still, 38 years after Roe v. Wade, do not.

Click here to donate to Feministing’s team, The Boehner Killers, in the National Abortion Access Bowl-a-thon.

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

Read more about Maya

Join the Conversation

  • Catherine Losing

    I found this piece really interesting.

    Living in the UK, money would not to be an issue if I ever needed and abortion. All healthcare is completely free. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to have to think about finding cash at such a stressful time. I know I’d struggle to come up with $400.

    The recent court cases involving rape victims in Ireland, where abortions are illegal due to the Catholic Church’s involvement in the government, got me and my friends thinking about what we’d do If we lived there. I hadn’t considered the issues surrounding abortions in countries where they are legal, but you have to pay.

    I hope your bowl-a-thon goes well and that sometime in the near future American women’s access to abortions won’t depend on how much money they earn.

    • Kate

      wow, I almost cried when I read that you have access to free abortions. I had to pay for mine out of pocket, which meant asking for loans, which of course meant explaining what I needed it for. It was a humiliating experience. Not that I should feel ashamed about having an abortion (which I don’t), but I was having to disclose a lot of personal information regarding my sex life, my finances, and my relationship status to people in my life.

  • Erin

    I relate to your story and have donated to the cause. You go girl!

  • nazza

    American society always tries to interject itself in the poor, because we wouldn’t dare do so in a person of privilege. That would be beyond meddling and an invasion of privacy. There’s still a belief that those in poverty do not have the education and the judgment to make proper decisions, so government must intercede in their behalf. But it’s a heavy-handed kind of act that does no one much good in the end.

  • Rachel

    I’ll be donating as soon as I get paid on Friday! While I don’t think I would choose to have an abortion, I do believe that each woman has the right to choose what to do with her body. Because that’s really what this is about. You choosing what you will or will not do with your body.

  • Stephanie Morabe Harper

    Hi Feministing gals. I live in Dublin CA, and I am partaking in the bowl-a-thon myself for the Bay Area. I am an advocacy volunteer for ACCESS Women’s Health Justice in Oakland, CA where we help women all over CA find the help/resources they need for abortion access. We get calls everyday from women who need abortion coverage, rides to their destination, or money to take transportation to the hospital out of their town. We even house women and their partners the day before and after the procedure, supporting their experience as mush as we can. These needs are all a part of the Practical Support Services that ACCESS provides for women. If it wasn’t for ACCESS, women who don’t have hospitals who perform abortions around them, or even Planned Parenthoods, would be out of luck. I made sure to be a team captain and ‘rally my troops’ of friends/family to participate in this event. I appropriately named the team “Balls of Fury” and I am bowling for the women past and present who are presented with the decision of an abortion.