It’s Time to Put Americans’ Health Care Decisions Back in Our Own Hands

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

We all deserve the right to make informed decisions about our own health. That right has been in danger for years — and since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, it’s under siege.

I grew up in the South with an abstinence-only education — if you can call that an “education.”

This approach, which teaches nothing about sex except not to have it, is an utter failure. It’s been proven to have no effect on reducing adolescent pregnancies. And couples who’ve received abstinence-only messaging use less birth control and STD protection than couples who’ve been taught about them.

When I went to college and became aware of the harmful effects of abstinence-only “education,” I joined a peer-based sex ed group on campus. We were health- and sex-positive. But abortion was still only discussed in the shadows, in hushed tones, if at all.

But now, like sex ed, these discussions need to be out in the open.

When my birth control failed, I became pregnant. My now-husband and I were in a long-distance relationship while he finished a paramedic program. We were considering marriage, but we weren’t there yet and didn’t have enough money to raise a child. We made what was, for us, the responsible decision.

The truth is, all kinds of people get abortions. More than half are already parents. People who identify as “pro-life” get abortions, and people who are married get abortions. And the vast majority of Americans support the right to choose an abortion.

After my legal abortion, I began volunteering at an abortion clinic in Florida. Years later, I was offered a job at the Yellowhammer Fund, which provides support to pregnant people seeking reproductive care and family planning in Alabama and across the South.

Reproductive health care wasn’t easy even before the Supreme Court reversed Roe, especially in the South.

For instance, in Alabama, we had only three health care providers willing to provide abortion care. The state imposed stricter than national average gestational limits, a two-visit prerequisite, and a 48-hour waiting period. If the situation was an emergency, the documentation for a medical exception was extremely difficult to obtain.

Now it’s even worse. Not only can we not provide care, we can’t help patients cross state lines to get it elsewhere. We can’t even help patients understand where and how they can receive the abortion care they need. Our speech has been criminalized.

In states like mine where care has now been prohibited, it’s not the pregnant person, their family, and doctors who determine their care. It’s ideologically extreme lawmakers with no medical background or knowledge of individual circumstances who dictate those deeply personal decisions.

We’re doing what we can. For now, we can direct people seeking abortion care to published articles where they can find information. We can still help families with legal challenges and provide safe sex kits.

Importantly, we’re also training community members across the rural South to be advocates and provide supportive resources for those seeking reproductive justice. And the Yellowhammer Fund has launched a lawsuit to restore our right to help clients find abortion care, and there is some hopeful movement.

But we also need lawmakers to know that every decision they make restricting reproductive care is life-ruining. They aren’t “pro-life.” They aren’t saving lives. All too often, when women can’t get miscarriage treatments or other emergency care, they’re ending lives.

Midwives and birthing centers need to be free to care for their patients in ways that maximize that patient’s health and family, free of state control and threats of prison. This is a message that the majority of Americans support. We need to make sure lawmakers listen.

Kelsea McLain was born and raised in the South. She’s the Deputy Director of the Yellowhammer Fund in Alabama and a member of the Southern Reproductive and Sexual Health Advocates table convened by the National Health Law Program