Solution journalism: Womens’ lack of access to abortion in New Orleans

Editors Note: The following is a five-piece series called “The Truth about the Big Easy” curated by Parker Kim. This series is in partnership with Via Nola Vie and aims to give transplants and locals a series look at what is happening in our local government. 

New Orleans always seems to be being left out of the national conversation. Whenever New Orleans is being mentioned it is either about a natural disaster or a report on the rampant partying going on on Bourbon. Sometimes we forget that there is so much more happening behind the scenes in our city. The floats this year at Krewe De Veux were a clear indication that there is more going on behind the curtain in the New Orleans government. From public education to infrastructure this series of articles will give you a better indication of the current state of this great city. There are so many questions that need to be answered and hopefully, this series of articles opens the curtain to why things are the way they are here maybe just a little bit. 

Pregnant woman holding her stomach (Photo by: Hey Black Mom)

Part I: The Issue

When Vikki Brown, a thirty-three-year-old New Orleans woman working in education, originally tried to end her pregnancy, a receptionist at her gynecologist’s office told her she was “disgusted” by her request. Brown then sought out New Orleans’s lone abortion clinic, the outside flooded with protestors. Inside the clinic was completely full. Women were sitting on the floor. Brown’s ultrasound alone cost her a wait of six hours and $150. “It doesn’t have to be like this.” Brown’s friend in Washington DC consoled her. On her friend’s advice, Brown booked a ticket to DC. There she was able to get an abortion that same day. Her appointment in Washington could not have been more different, with no prolonged waiting period, and no harassment from protestors. The average abortion in New Orleans totally around $1500 to $2,000, while compared to $500-$1200 in DC the total cost of Brown’s travel, accommodation and procedure was still an estimated $400-$500 cheaper than just a procedure in New Orleans.

Believe it or not, compared to many women seeking an abortion in New Orleans, Vikki Brown was very lucky. She had the resources to seek out safe treatment, the ability to travel to another state as well as the social and financial independence to have autonomy over her body. Many women in New Orleans, do not have the same options Brown did. The Woman’s Health Care Clinic in New Orleans is the city’s sole operating abortion clinic, with only one doctor who can legally perform abortions. Women’s access to abortion in New Orleans is hanging on by a thread. As restrictive abortion laws pop up across the country, more and more women are left with limited to no options to receive care. In order to get an abortion in New Orleans, a patient must receive state-directed counseling including information designed to discourage the woman from having the abortion. The counseling must be performed in person, 24 hours before the patient’s procedure, requiring the woman to take at least two trips to the facility.

At the Women’s Health Care Clinic, the cost of a surgical abortion without insurance can be up to $2,500 not including the mandatory counseling charge of $150 dollars. Medicaid as well as other health plans offered under the Affordable Care Act provide no cover for the cost of an abortion in Louisiana. As the median income for women in New Orleans stands at $23,155 in 2018, the staggering cost of abortion leaves many women unable to seek out their right to choose. The loopholes the state of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans have put in place to undermine Roe vs Wade not only provide significant financial and emotional distress for women seeking an abortion but systematically intensify New Orleans’s already staggering wealth inequality, with a GINI Index of 0.5744, making New Orleans the city with the second highest iincome inequality or the wealth inequality in the country.

A wealthy New Orleans woman is likely able to pay for her abortion, have some of the cost covered by insurance, or be able to travel to another state with looser restrictions and lower costs. A woman of lower-income is denied these options and is also less likely to have access to contraceptives, to begin with. A 2018 study , “Socioeconomic Outcomes of Women Who Receive and Women Who Are Denied Wanted Abortions in the United States” conducted interviews with 813 women in the United States throughout five years. The study concluded that “women who had abortions denied to them were more likely to be in poverty within six months compared to women who were able to interrupt the pregnancy. Women who were denied abortion were also less likely to have full-time work and more likely to depend on some form of public assistance. This study illustrates how restrictive abortion policies perpetuate cycles of poverty. New Orleans’s poverty rate of 23.7% is almost double the national average. The cities extreme restriction of abortions is extremely harmful to women and families in the city, as well as perpetuating the blaring economic inequality New Orleans is facing.

In many other cities among the U.S. Planned Parenthood clinics are able to administer the procedures, but New Orleans’s Planned Parenthood has been consistently denied a license the perform abortions by the state of Louisiana. Planned Parenthood began the process of obtaining a license during Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. Their efforts continued in 2016 when Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards was elected; however, as both men oppose abortion rights, the license has still not been granted. In 2018, two Planned Parenthood clinics and three New Orleans women filed a federal lawsuit against the state for illegally delaying action on the application for a license. By not acting on this license for years, the plaintiffs argue they are essentially denying the license. However, in August of 2021 filed a petition asking for the full 5th circuit to consider the issue, insisting that the federal courts depend on the state health department to “grant or stop withholding approval” of the license. The withholding of this license extensively limits abortion procedures to the singular clinic, increasing the wait time and cost of an abortion exorbitantly higher for the women of New Orleans.

Over the past few years, many policies and laws that undermine abortion laws and women’s health care have been passed throughout the country. Planned Parenthood has employed an aggressive defense against antiabortion laws and policies, employing all available lobbying tools to ensure their protection of women’s rights. Over recent years the organization’s counter offense has been widespread throughout the country, in order to halt the persistent defunding efforts they are facing.

Part II: The Solution

One of the main tools that Planned Parenthood has employed is large public displays and protests. These tactics draw attention from the media, planned parenthood supporters, civilians as well as put pressure on lawmakers and government officials. In 2015, many state officials and congressional representatives were pushing to halt Planned Parenthood’s funding. This was a massive threat to women’s reproductive and feminine health in states such as New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, so the organization commissioned polls showing the decrease in public support for legislators who plan to shut down their funding. They aired aids on local television and cable stations. They sent out op-ed pieces to media outlets all over the country and started #StandwithPP petitions across social media.

Supporters flocked to government buildings to protest this defunding, within a month Planned Parenthood supporters have placed 62,000 phone calls to lawmakers, collected 900,000 signatures on #StandWithPP petitions, and gained 60,000 new Facebook followers. In response, Pennsylvania republican representative Charlie Dent proposed a compromise on funding with Planned Parenthood, a bill that would take away money only from clinics involved in selling tissue from aborted fetuses. Planned Parenthood has consistently denied that any of their clinics have ever sold tissue from fetuses, yet the bill was proposed in response to the massive support for Planned Parenthood by the public. Due to this public pressure, Pennsylvania has maintained funding for abortion over the past five years, in 2020 a line item under the Pennsylvania Department of Human services would add a $3 million dollar funding stream to offset some of the losses incurred by reproductive health care providers as a result of federal funding restrictions enacted by the Trump Administration. Although several Planned Parenthoods in other states were not able to stop the legislative defunding of the organization, the massive lobbying effort increased their total net assets from 1.214 billion in 2015 to 1.235 billion in 2016. According to their annual report, in 2016 the organization also saw a 3% increase in revenue from private contributions and bequests.

To effectively combat anti-abortion laws and protect women’s right to choose, it is essential to spread public awareness and passion about the cause. In recent years, many celebrities and influential figures have aligned themselves as pro-choice and have taken time to advocate and protest against the anti-abortion laws and policies that are sweeping through the country. In 2019, Georgia drafted a bill that would ban most abortions after a doctor detected cardiac activity, which can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. In response to this bill, more than forty Hollywood celebrities sent a signed letter to Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, and Governor Brian Kemp stating that if the bill was passed into law they will push TV and film companies to abandon Georgia. The state of Georgia has been an extremely popular choice for Hollywood production companies and has provided the state with billions in economic activity in the past decade. The celebrities included extremely influential Hollywood stars such as Alec Baldwin, Gabrielle Union, Sarah Silverman, Ben Stiller, and Sean Penn. Although the heartbeat bill ended up being declared unconstitutional by a federal judge, the celebrities’ letter generated massive public discourse over the law and the state of Georgia’s unconstitutional ban on women’s rights.
The Journal of Nonprofit & Public Sector Marketing conducted a study on “Celebrity Endorsement and Involvement With the Social Cause in Nonprofit Organizations,” concluded that although celebrity endorsement did not have significant effects on individuals who already had high involvement with the cause, it can have a positive influence on individuals who previously experienced low involvement with the cause. The importance of employing celebrity involvement for abortion rights is many Americans both men and women are unaware of how serious the fight to keep these rights is. Many are unaware of how millions of Americans’ rights to abortion are threatened, and how many could soon lose these rights altogether, esepically as the furure of Roe vs. Wade is currently being reviewed by the supreme court.

Part III: Implementation

To combat the devastating lack of access to abortion in New Orleans, New Orleans’s branch of Planned Parenthood should drastically increase its lobbying tactics to pressure the state legislature to act on their request for an abortion license. To do so, Planned Parenthood should first launch a campaign on social media, followed by an online petition requesting for the state legislature to approve the license. Planned Parenthood should also reach out to local pro-choice organizations such as the New Orleans Abortion Fund or Tulane University’s Student United for Reproductive Justice to support and share the cause.

Planned Parenthood should also host a peaceful protest to demand change from legislators. The protest’s mission will center around granting a license for the organization to be able to perform abortions in New Orleans and to generate increased donations and funding for women who cannot afford the procedures.

In order to draw local and national attention to this cause, New Orleans’s Planned Parenthood should partner with a celebrity who has a personal connection to the city of New Orleans and have that celebrity either attend or publicly endorse the protest. Similar to the letter signed by over 40 Hollywood Stars, the attention garnered by having a well-known celebrity or influential individual would lead to increased public discourse on New Orleans’s lack of abortion access. To ensure that the endorsement is genuine, the individual should have ties to New Orleans and previously participate in pro-choice activism. An example would be Reese Witherspoon, who was born in New Orleans and has spoken out against the anti-abortion laws sweeping the country. The issue with increasing lobbying for New Orleans’s Planned Parenthood is there is no way to guarantee that the state legislature would grant the license. Although this is a major limitation of the solution, bringing increased attention to the issue is likely to result in a change in other areas, such as an increase of funding or appeals to federal courts.

An even more daunting issue however currently sits on the floor of the supreme court. The justices are currently determining whether a Mississippi law that bans abortion at 15 weeks is constitutional, with many predicting that this will determine the standing of Roe vs Wade itself. If Roe vs Wade is to be overturned, Louisiana is one of twelve states that is slated to immediately ban abortion. If this is the case, then attempting to increase abortion access in New Orleans is essentially irrelevant. However, to this date, it is not illegal to travel to receive an abortion in another state, therefore if Roe vs Wade is overturned it is essential to prepare funds to assist women who cannot afford to travel to receive an abortion. The New Orleans Abortion Fund, as well as Planned Parenthood, should dedicate funding to pay for travel and medical expenses in other cities that will not lose abortion rights if Roe vs Wade is overturned. Cities like Denver and Washington DC are less than three-hour flights away, with most flights ranging from $100 to $200. The New Orleans Abortion fund should rebrand itself, and encourage donors to fund one woman’s abortion care packge, which would include transportation, accommodation, and procedure costs. The typical costs of a flight to Denver or Washington DC range from $100-$200 dollars, with three nights in a hotel averaging at $150-$300, and abortion care costs in these cities at around $500-$1200 in DC. For the sum of $1225, donors could ensure that one woman is stopped from seeking out an illegal abortion or being forced into an adverse pregnancy.

The possibility of abortion care no longer being availbale in Lousiana is alarmingly likely, it is important for pro-choice resources such as Planned Parenthood and The New Orleans Abortion Fund to advocate this treat and the solution to established donors and supporters. A celebrity endorsement or partner could also be used to help fund the abortion travel packages, or to advocate the cause.

In the next few years abortion access in New Orleans could look glaringly different. The pressure of lobbying and protests imposed by Planned Parenthood could encourage law makers to grant the licesne, or the Supreme Court could curtail Roe vs Wade leaving all abortion in the state illegal. However, it is essential for pro-choice advocates in New Orleans to be prepared for these outcomes, and everything in between, to ensure that all women regardless of their race, age, or socio-economic status are able to maintain their right to choose.

Sources

Bluestein, Greg. “Kemp Mocks ‘C-List Celebrities’ Threatening Boycott over Anti-Abortion Law.” Ajc, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 18 May 2019, https://www.ajc.com/blog/politics/kemp-mocks-list-celebrities-threatening-boycott-over-anti-abo rtion-law/kS7Podf6NnCGI4BevKOcUK/.

De los Salmones, Ma del, and Rafael Dominguez. “Celebrity Endorsement and Involvement with the Social Cause in Nonprofit Organizations.” Journal of Nonprofit & Public Sector Marketing, vol. 28, no. 4, 2016, pp. 309–326., https://doi.org/10.1080/10495142.2016.1237922.

Foster, Diana Greene, et al. “Socioeconomic Outcomes of Women Who Receive and Women Who Are Denied Wanted Abortions in the United States.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 108, no. 3, 2018, pp. 407–413., https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.2017.304247.

Ho, Catherine, and Kelsey Snell. “Planned Parenthood’s Aggressive Defense.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 28 Oct. 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2015/08/31/planned-parenthoods-aggressi ve-defense/.

Parenthood, Planned. “Abortion Service in Washington, DC – Get the Pill, Facts & Cost.” Planned Parenthood, https://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-center/district-of-columbia/washington/20002/carol- whitehill-moses-center-4221-90230/abortion.

Varney, Sarah. “Long Drives, Costly Flights, and Wearying Waits: What Abortion Requires in the South.” NPR, NPR, 2 Aug. 2021, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/08/02/1022860226/long-drives-costly-flights-and -wearying-waits-what-abortion-requires-in-the-sout.

Women’s Health Care Center, https://www.womenshealthcarecenter.com/.

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