Chicago Friday afternoon as part of the Be Bold Road Trip tour, a reproductive rights campaign. Organizers say the tour, which covers a dozen cities in eight states, is a way to mobilize people in communities across the country to work to both educate and empower groups fighting to keep abortion safe, legal and accessible.
The tour, which continues through September with stops along the east coast, seeks to engage communities and inform them on current laws that restrict access to abortion and other reproductive care for women as well as teach them how to push their legislators to make changes.
“This tour is advocating for removing barriers that restrict women from accessing those essential reproductive health services that they need,” said Dr. Willie J. Parker, a speaker on the tour from Alabama. “Whether you need those services or not, we all are connected to mothers, sisters, aunts and other women who need to have control of their lives by being able to control their reproductive health.”
Speaking in front of the Be Bold truck, a vehicle emblazoned with messages of support for reproductive rights signed by attendees from stops along the tour, Dr. Parker told the crowd, “I work everyday with women making decisions about pregnancy. I know firsthand the dire impact of what laws that prevent women from having access to abortion does to them mentally, physically, spiritually, economically. We now live in a reality where poor women - because of how they fund their care - are being discriminated against.”
Parker and other reproductive choice advocates say that the four decades of the Hyde Amendment, which withholds coverage for abortion services for women insured through Medicaid depending on the circumstances, along with other regressive restrictions placed on insurance coverage in state marketplaces since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, creates barriers that keep economically disenfranchised women from making decisions about their reproductive health. Since health care reform legislation passed in 2010, five states have passed bans on abortion coverage and coverage has been banned in 23 marketplace exchanges, according to the ACLU.
“What other health service do you know of where no public dollars are allowed,” asked U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), who spoke at the afternoon rally. “Every woman deserves the right to her reproductive freedom, the right to have an abortion, the right to make her decisions, the right to contraception.”
In addition to restrictions that place economic barriers on women attempting to access reproductive health care, parental notification laws add another layer of difficulty for some women. Illinois law requires care providers to inform family members of minors seeking abortions about the procedure, unless the minor obtains permission from a judge. Reproductive rights advocates say that puts undue hardship on women seeking care.
“For many young women, forced notification of a family member will result in them being abused, kicked out of the home, or forced to carry a pregnancy to term against their will,” said Roshni Shikari, staff attorney with the ACLU of Illinois. “Their only alternative is to go to court and share with a judge the most intimate aspect of their lives, hoping the judge will grant them a waiver so they can get their abortions.”
Also speaking at the rally were U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL, 5) and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. Comparing the struggle women face for reproductive rights to other civil rights struggles, Preckwinkle said that while strides have been made over the years, there’s still a long way to go.
“There was a time in this country when the discussions were all about abortion,” said Preckwinkle. “Now they’re about access to contraception, which seems like many steps backwards. “We’re at a point in time where we’re not going to hold onto our gains or make any progress without a tremendous struggle.”