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Don’t mess with reproductive rights in Maryland | READER COMMENTARY

In this Wednesday, March 4, 2020 file photo, abortion rights demonstrators rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington. A federal appeals court panel ruled that medication abortions, in which pills are taken to terminate a pregnancy, can be provided in Texas during the coronavirus pandemic. In a ruling Monday, April 13, 2020, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that medication abortions can go forward. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin File)
In this Wednesday, March 4, 2020 file photo, abortion rights demonstrators rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington. A federal appeals court panel ruled that medication abortions, in which pills are taken to terminate a pregnancy, can be provided in Texas during the coronavirus pandemic. In a ruling Monday, April 13, 2020, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that medication abortions can go forward. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin File)(Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

During a global pandemic, legislators in Texas tried — and failed — to use the coronavirus as an excuse to effectively ban abortion and deny its residents access to the care they need and many other states are attempted to follow their lead (“Abortion during a pandemic? Texas says no in many cases,” April 14). Thankfully, Maryland’s clinics are open and will continue to operate.

However, misinformation circulated widely after Gov. Larry Hogan’s initial shelter-in-place directive included confusing and seemingly contradictory remarks about whether clinics would be forced to close. Though the governor’s office later clarified that clinics are open, unclear communication can discourage folks from seeking the care they need. Rather than relying on nonprofit organizations to work overtime correcting misinformation, the Baltimore Abortion Fund urges The Baltimore Sun to fact check Governor Hogan’s statement and provide residents with clear information about services that are, in fact, still essential.

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Throughout this pandemic, people in all states still need to get abortion care. In a statement last month, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists affirmed that abortion is essential, time-sensitive health care which cannot be delayed without the possibility of harming a person’s “life, health, and well-being.” But what happens when someone loses their job and there is no end in sight for this economic shutdown? With more people struggling financially, it will likely be even more difficult for people to access the abortion care they need.

Even when people are able to access abortion care, folks across America routinely endure state-mandated — and often medically inaccurate — counseling, ultrasounds, days-long waiting periods, and parental notification requirements. Pregnant people have to travel long distances, arrange child care, take off work, and scrape together hundreds or thousands of dollars to pay for procedures often not covered by insurance. In a racist, xenophobic climate, these barriers are further heightened for black and indigenous people, immigrants, those who are undocumented and other marginalized folks.

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The Baltimore Abortion Fund is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance to people who live in or travel to Maryland for abortion care. We provide small grants to callers because no one should be denied access to abortion care because they cannot afford it. Among our callers, first trimester procedures cost an average of $435, with callers reporting second trimester procedures averaging $3,500, and the cost keeps steeply climbing from there. Given the devastating financial impact of the pandemic and resulting economic shutdown, these costs become even more overwhelming for our community.

Our organization’s mission has always been to respond to a public health emergency. The scope is different now and it will only continue to grow. We are hearing from callers who have been laid off, lost their health insurance and are struggling to make rent and put food on the table. Coming up with more than $400 is nearly impossible in these circumstances.

Rather than callously seizing on a collective national trauma to restrict abortion access, states should be improving access to essential abortion care. Virginia has become the first state to codify new abortion protections in 2020, rolling back multiple medically unnecessary restrictions that impeded access to abortions. States can also take further measures to expand access to abortion care: telemedicine is a safe and effective alternative to in-person office visits. Instead, it is often a target for anti-choice regulation. Shelter-in-place and physical distancing requirements underscore the need for expansion of medical management of abortion, another process that can be safe and effective.

In the meantime, communities around the country are organizing mutual aid networks to care for each other. Abortion funds are yet another form of mutual aid. Our organization is part of the National Network of Abortion Funds which consists of more than 70 independently operated funds across the country. These circumstances make clear for everyone the value of the idea we have always fought for: that taking care of our community’s access to health care is everyone’s responsibility.

Now more than ever, Maryland must ensure anyone seeking abortion care should be able to get one regardless of income. Until then, the Baltimore Abortion Fund, along with other abortion funds around the country, will be here to protect and expand our neighbors’ access to essential abortion care throughout and beyond this pandemic. We hope you will join us in this movement.

Liz Bayer, Hannah Kang and Nicole McCann, Baltimore

The writers are board members of the Baltimore Abortion Fund.

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