Saturday, April 13, 2019

Commentary: 'Illinois billboard welcomes drivers and shatters stigma: "Where You Can Get A Safe, Legal Abortion"' by Marissa Higgins

One reason a person might cross state lines? To get an abortion. The medical procedure, while being safe and legal, isn’t as accessible depending on where you happen to be in the country. This is an issue for obvious reason—not everyone can afford to travel, or miss work, or so on—but some people do end up making the journey in order to access the medical procedure. As reported by CBS News, a billboard in Illinois proudly touts this reminder to people driving from Missouri.
"Welcome to Illinois," says the billboard, "where you can get a safe, legal abortion."
The billboard is the brainchild of The Hope Clinic, a facility located in Granite City, Illinois. For a frame of reference, Granite City is pretty close to St. Louis, Missouri. In fact, it’s about ten minutes driving across state lines.
The idea behind this billboard is that people who live in Missouri (which has some of the strictest abortion laws in the country) may end up driving into Illinois to access a safe abortion. How often does this happen? According to Alison Dreith, The Hope Clinic's media coordinator, half of their patients come from Missouri. 

In an interview with The Miami Herald, Dr. Erin King, the clinic's executive director (and physician), explained that the billboard went up in mid-March. The clinic was inspired after seeing a similar billboard go up in Colorado, courtesy of ProgressNow Colorado, also advertising safe and legal abortion. The phrasing of the billboard also does great work to shatter the stigma associated with abortion; it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
This is one example of social media actually doing good.
"Here we are in a state where patients can get access to legal, safe reproductive health care, when states right next door don't have the same access," King explained to The Miami Herald. "We wanted to tell patients that they are welcome here and providers will get you the help you're looking for."
Dr. King, as reported by the River Front Times, states in a press release, “The goal of this billboard is to remind people coming in from Missouri that they are now in a state that trusts and allows pregnant people to make their own healthcare and family planning decisions.”
What’s the deal with Missouri’s legislation? Let’s break it down—but to be blunt, lawmakers are pushing restrictions that are, without a doubt, dangerous and inhumane. And that’s on top of laws already being restrictive.
In February of this year, an exceptionally restrictive abortion bill, known as HB 126 or the “Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act,” was introduced. In short, the bill would prohibit a pregnant person from getting an abortion if a “fetal heartbeat” was detected.
Obviously, the idea of the “fetal heartbeat” in this case is misleading. It’s also not medically accurate; picking up a “fetal heartbeat” doesn’t mean that there is a fully formed heart in the way a layperson might understand it to be. So basically, the phrasing of the bill intentionally implies that the fetus is further along than it actually is.
So… It’s manipulative.
In practice, this is how it would shake out. Physicians would need to find a “heartbeat” before performing an abortion, by using a “good faith understanding of standard medical practice.” The physician would also need to determine the gestational stage and explain these details to the patient.
If the physician doesn’t do these things? Penalties. And these penalties are no joke: According to the bill, the physician’s license could be suspended, rejected, or entirely revoked. They might also face fines.
Where does all of this lead? If this bill becomes law, the physician in this scenario would have to tell the patient that because cardiac activity was detected, they could not perform the abortion. Of course, this would apply only within Missouri, because it’s (potentially) state law. So people may then travel elsewhere or may skip Missouri clinics, to begin with, depending on how far along they believe they are in the pregnancy.
Either way, this law makes an already difficult process that much harder… All to get a safe, legal medical procedure. 
In an interview with Yahoo Lifestyle, Dreith said:
There will be an avenue for access to abortion no matter what happens legislatively, and we just need to be more creative of getting our message out there to let our most vulnerable communities know that they still have choices. If we could do anything to reduce that stigma and to let people know that no matter what happens there’s still folks out there who will love and support you to get compassionate care, we want to be a part of that.”
Dreith is right: People will always need access to safe abortions. Whether it’s using social media to showcase safe opportunities, volunteering as a clinic escort, or reaching out to your local lawmakers, there’s always something to be done to help break the stigma and protect safe abortion access. 
Editor's note: This article was originally run at the Daily Kos, which stipulates that its "content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified."