When New York legalized abortion in 1970—three years before the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade—a shrewd entrepreneur named Martin Mitchell saw an opportunity. The 31-year-old Detroit-area man chartered a tiny private plane and began advertising frequent flights from Michigan, where elective abortion was illegal, to Niagara Falls, New York, where it was not. For $400, a woman got transportation, an abortion by a licensed doctor at a clinic near the airport, and lunch, before being flown home the same day.
One of Mitchell’s clients, a 22-year-old secretary with a steady job at a hospital, told a reporter at the time that she was too scared to seek out an illegal abortion in Michigan, and that if she hadn’t been able to get to New York, she would have been forced to continue her pregnancy. She was only able to afford the charter service—which, adjusting for inflation, would cost about $2,900 today—because her parents lent her the money. Before the flight home, she gushed with relief. “Gosh I feel great, fine, just great,” she said.
It is not far-fetched to imagine that this is the future we may soon face, in which the ability to terminate a pregnancy in the United States will largely depend on where you live and what kind of financial resources you have. If the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade is adopted, roughly half of U.S. states are expected to quickly ban or severely restrict abortion. No longer a protected constitutional right, abortion will become more akin to a privilege, reserved for those with the means necessary to obtain one.
To be clear, this is already the lived experience of poor and minority women in many parts of the country. In much of the South and Midwest, state legislatures have spent decades passing regulations on abortion with the express intent of suppressing access. Patients in these states are forced to spend more money, take more time off work, and travel farther distances to get to an abortion clinic. Given that nearly half of U.S. abortion patients live below the poverty line, and about another quarter are low-income, it follows that these obstacles have proved insurmountable for some.
To call an abortion a privilege is incompatible with what going through it feels like. For women fighting to maintain bodily autonomy, trying to avoid a forced birth, it ranks as a basic human necessity. But in a post-Roe world, the women who are and aren’t able to access this form of health care are likely to be starkly divided by …….