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What trying to access abortion care is like here in post-Dobbs Missouri
Kansas recently celebrated a big win for reproductive rights. Things are very different just across the border.
By Kelsey Rhodes
Across the pages of every news outlet in early August — including this NBC article featuring a photo of me — we saw coverage of Kansas’s big win for abortion access. While Kansas’s rejection of an anti-abortion amendment was certainly a victory for Kansans in particular and the reproductive rights cause nationally, here in neighboring Missouri, the reality is quite different. Abortion bans are a fact of life and were even when Roe was still the law of the land.
I know this because this is my life and community. As a pregnant capable person who lives in Kansas City, Missouri, partnered to an abortion provider, and in community with abortion providers across the country, I hear stories every day of just how normal abortion is to people who need them. People get pregnant, know they don’t want to or can’t be, and desire the safe, basic health care they deserve. But our elected officials are doing their damnedest to stigmatize, shame, and villainize people who need abortions. The way they frame the conversation around abortion is wrong. It doesn’t speak to the reality of our communities.
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Abortion is normal. Just a few weeks ago, I dropped my partner off at one of the many clinics in the region where she provides abortion care. In a quiet parking lot in Wichita, Kansas, one of the five abortion clinics in the entire state, patients, their partners, and their kids waited for appointment times in cars, their radios and heaters humming. I couldn’t help but think about how badly I wished for politicians and voters from both sides of the aisle to see how normal this scene was. Not dramatic. Not fraught. But deeply problematic. Because that week, the parking lot was filled with cars with Texas license plates. Alabama. Louisiana. New Mexico. Missouri. Arkansas. They had all driven all day or all night to be here. To be handed pills, or to have a five minute outpatient procedure.
Abortion is more accessible in Kansas than many states in the region, thanks in no small part to the work of organizers. The vote on the referendum reaffirmed the state’s Supreme Court decision in 2019 that abortion rights are enshrined into Kansas’s constitution. Kansas became a critical access point not just for Kansans and neighboring Missourians, but like those license plates at the clinic showed, for people across broad swaths of the country. While we are definitely seeing a surge in Kansas abortion clinics caring for people from surrounding states — there’s been a 36 percent increase in patients being seen at Kansas clinics since the US Supreme Court overturned the federal right to an abortion — this is not new.
Abortion access has been essentially impossible in Missouri for years due to the medically unnecessary, dangerous abortion bans that have been passed in recent decades, with the final strike being a trigger law passed in 2019 stating that if Roe v. Wade were to ever be overturned, the state would immediately ban abortion care outright. That trigger ban went into effect following SCOTUS’s Dobbs decision in June.
Back when that trigger law was passed, Missouri only had one abortion clinic. Abortion may technically have been legal, but the restrictions were so many and layered that it was as though a total ban was already in place. Patients had to receive state mandated counseling filled with lies about abortion and aimed to discourage patients from getting the care they needed. They then had to wait 72 hours (a barrier put into place in 2014) before returning to the clinic, another medically unnecessary hoop to jump through designed to make it harder for people to access health care.
By the time the Dobbs decision came down, Missourians had already been crossing state lines to Kansas and Illinois to get abortion care. Abortion is now banned in Missouri in all cases, except in extremely limited instances of medical emergencies or if the life of the pregnant person is at risk. These exceptions are extremely challenging to navigate; to people who need abortions, every abortion is medically necessary. But the confusion and coercion is the point.
As we see in Missouri and Kansas, there’s nothing easy about finding an appointment at an increasingly limited number of clinic options, getting there, and then paying for the care. Traveling to an appointment from one end of a large metro area to another, let alone across an entire state or states, can make the care in and of itself impossible to access, despite its legality. Not everyone has a car, and rural areas generally don’t have much in the way of public transportation options. Ride share apps have mileage limitations and assume that everyone in our communities has credit cards. Childcare can be challenging to find and pay for, and we know that the majority of people who access abortion care are already parents. These barriers inequitably target and impact people with identities who are already under systemic attack in America: Black and Indigenous and Brown people, queer people, trans people, young people, immigrants, people with disabilities.
We know that these barriers are forcing some people in Missouri and across the country to remain pregnant as people have been less able to access this necessary health care since the end of Roe. The immediate and generational consequences are disturbing — and our elected officials here in Missouri are only getting more draconian.
As I meet with organizers across the state, we all dream of a more liberated future. We advocate for policies that aim to reduce the harm of the current bans we’re living under, and work to raise funds to provide financial and logistical support for people who are forced to leave Missouri to get care. We strive to bring abortion access to our own state’s ballot and show politicians what the people really want: policies that reflect our community’s needs, hopes, care, and our normal, everyday lives. Republicans may have majorities in both chambers of our state legislature, but they’re out of step with public opinion — recent polling shows majorities of likely voters favoring more reproductive rights.
Abortion is normal. It’s a basic part of comprehensive reproductive health care that we need over the course of our lives. And we deserve to have access to normalcy, to justice, and to futures centered on us; all of us, whether we’re in blue states, red ones, or somewhere in between.
New Year’s reflections from Aaron
First off, let me wish you and yours a happy New Year’s celebration this weekend. Whether you’re going out on the town or mostly staying in like me — it’s hard to find babysitters for a 2-year-old and 7-month old on NYE — I hope your 2022 ends on a high note and 2023 starts off strong.
Thank you for helping make my first full year as an independent journalist such a resounding success. When I decided to leave Vox to launch Public Notice 15 months ago, I was confident that this newsletter would catch on, but couldn’t be sure how it would turn out. The newsletter industry was becoming an increasingly crowded space. I knew that people appreciated the video work I was doing on social media and my explanatory coverage of politics and media, but didn’t really know how that would translate to subscribers. I figured I would pour myself into it for a year, up through the midterm elections, then take inventory of how things were going. I’m happy to report that as we enter 2023, I’m now well over 50,000 total subscribers and on very solid footing to keep Public Notice going strong at least through this presidential cycle. And if you’re a free subscriber who has been thinking about upgrading to full access to the site, now’s the time — this is one of your last opportunities to take advantage of my holiday special. Just click the button below to sign up for one year of Public Notice for less than the cost of a cup of coffee each month.
Exciting things are in store for 2023. As you’ve probably noticed by now, I’m publishing contributions from a very talented and expanding group of freelancers, so expect to keep hearing from new voices in future editions of the newsletter. I’m also planning to launch an original weekly YouTube show soon, so stay tuned for that. And there will certainly be lots of things to cover and talk about — for better or worse (let’s be real, likely worse), the new year promises to be full of colorful congressional hearings, lots of Trump-related drama in the right-wing media ecosphere, and early presidential campaign jockeying.
As I take a look back more globally on 2022, it seems pretty unquestionable that the year will best be remembered as one in which the global order was upended by Russia’s brutal and senseless invasion of Ukraine. While things certainly aren’t going well for Putin over there at the moment, it’s hard to predict how it will play out. But that conflict is undoubtedly the starkest illustration of the conflict between freedom and authoritarianism that has animated this newsletter from the very first edition.
Here in the US, 2022 was a year in which the country continued to grapple with fallout from the stories that defined 2020 and 2021 — Covid and the January 6 coup attempt, respectively. (The biggest domestic story was probably SCOTUS ending federal abortion rights.) Biden and the Democrats were able to accomplish a range of important legislation, but it felt slightly overshadowed in the short run by pandemic-related economic malaise. While inflation didn’t stop Democrats from doing historically well in the midterms against a Republican Party increasingly polarized by Trump’s naked brand of authoritarianism, the GOP emerged with a very slim House majority, setting the stage for what promises to be a circus of a year in DC.
I look forward to covering it all for you here in Public Notice. But first, I’m doing some reflection on the year that was. And there has been no greater blessing for me personally than the arrival in May of my son Owen, who’s already consulting on the newsletter.
So from the little guy and the rest of my family to you and yours, cheers, and I’ll see you on the other side.
That’s it for this week — and 2022
I’ll be back Monday with the first 2023 edition of Public Notice.