By Justine Schnitzler
Every day Kelsea McLain makes the decision to fight for safe, judgement-free abortion access. McLain works in graduate office of the Sociology department at UNC while also serving on the board of the Carolina Abortion Fund.
It is one thing to have the legal right to an abortion, and quite another to contend with intersecting factors that, in practice, restrict that choice— especially affording the procedure.
“It can be scary to dedicate yourself to being radically pro choice” says McLain, “But it must happen. It’s been a long time coming.”
She’s right. Much of the conversation around abortion puts advocates on the defensive, which McLain considers “really, really disappointing.”
Americans looking for ‘champions’ of reproductive rights in politicians and government figures have, by and large, been asked to accept paltry excuses. What good is maintaining Roe v. Wade if this maintenance is in name only? McLain considers the term “necessary evil” to be inherently harmful to reproductive rights activism—along with the popular notion that abortion is always a hard decision.
The most common feeling reported by individuals following their abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, is relief. Of course, one narrative does not define the abortion experience, and reports of relief don’t eliminate other sentiments. There is room for individuals to feel upset, angry, and even regretful— sometimes all at the same time. But to demand that abortion always requires self-loathing is wrong. Individuals who choose abortion possess a variety of opinions about their procedures—all of which belong to them alone. In reflecting on her own abortion experience,
McLain says she wondered if she was “broken somehow,” because she was so sure in her choice. This is what our society has taught us—that no matter what, we deserve to feel bad for trusting our gut about our own reproductive health choices.
While McLain says she was raised in a highly feminist household, the consequences of privilege in abortion health care were not immediately evident to her until she reflected on her relative financial stability in choosing to terminate her unwanted pregnancy. Her moral reasoning was sound: “It wasn’t a dramatic, or guilt-driven decision. All my options, including abortion, were valid for me.” As far as funding her choice, McLain quickly realized how desperately needed abortion funding services were.
“I did receive assistance. I had no idea how I was going to pay for my procedure. I was unemployed at the time, and my partner was not in a position to be able to contribute what he wanted to. I contemplated herbal methods, and tried a few—none of which were dangerous, thank goodness, but they were ineffective. Ultimately, I knew if worst came to worst, I could call my parents. Someone in my family would have the ability to help. Legal procedures should not be this inaccessible.”
The dangers of attempting to induce an abortion alone are real. Prior to Roe v. Wade, historians and medical anthropologists alike estimate that around 5,000 Americans died yearly as a result of unsafe abortions, many of which were attempted at home. Eliminating the legality of abortion only endangers the lives of those who seek to end unwanted pregnancies.
The Carolina Abortion Fund is 100% volunteer powered. The CAF helps patients who are unable to pay for an abortion. Clinics that provide abortion services often refer patients to the CAF helpline. McLain notes that this method isn’t foolproof. There are often individuals who won’t even step foot in a clinic because they think they can’t afford it. McLain points out that one of the hardest aspects of working with CAF is turning away individuals when they have run out of funds—though there does exist an emergency fund, if needed.
CAF strives to offer complete assistance, with no judgment, and no stipulation of “priority” for one caller over another. CAF operates on a first come, first serve basis. So how do UNC students committed to reproductive healthcare access, bodily autonomy, and the maintenance of legal abortion fight the good fight?
McLain says that students can assist with CAF by volunteering to work the helpline. CAF hopes to work more directly with students on college campuses in the coming year. McLain also works as a clinic escort at a local abortion clinic. This work isn’t easy. The nature of the picketing is often personal, and most comments are blatantly misogynistic. Still, against all of the scrutiny and anger directed toward clinic escorts, patients are often grateful to escorts for being supportive and kind in the onslaught of attack.
More than anything, those seeking abortion are looking for dignity and privacy in their choices. There is a long road ahead for those of us seeking reproductive justice. How do we regain control of the narrative surrounding abortion? In regards to ending abortion stigma, McLain offers a few words of advice:
“I would really like to see the voices of those typically left out of the conversation—like non-binary folks and gay women who have had abortions. And if you’ve never had an abortion, you must lift these voices up