On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that’s being described as a “turning point” for abortion clinics. Depending how the justice rule, they could essentially reverse decades of progress under Roe v. Wade.
The case, called Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, challenges HB2 — a controversial Texas law that, if upheld, would give all states legal cover to shut down abortion clinics unless they comply with medically unnecessary restrictions. Pro-choice activists and lawmakers have protested the Texas law for months, upset that the Supreme Court would even hear such a case and afraid of the devastating impact this restrictive law could have on crucial women’s health care.
Some women are already living that reality.
Jackie Casteel lives in Missouri, one of the 22 states that already imposes onerous restrictions on clinics. In fact, her state is home to some of the most oppressive laws in the country — easily comparable to Texas’ HB2 — that have left the entire state with only one abortion provider.
These laws, known broadly as the “Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers,” or TRAP, impose costly and unnecessary restrictions on clinics to limit access to abortion under the guise that they simply exist to improve women’s health. But both the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have come out against these laws because they aren’t necessary for patients’ safety — and, in fact, “jeopardize women’s health by restricting access to abortion providers.”
Casteel had an abortion in 2003. Though she struggled with the financial burden of paying for the procedure, and had to take days off work to make the appointment, she was lucky in one way. It was months before the state’s TRAP restrictions became law. Today, Missouri women face even tougher obstacles blocking them from an abortion, like a mandatory 72-hour waiting period between a visit with an a doctor and the actual procedure. And this depends on if their abortion clinic hasn’t been shuttered because its hallway was a few inches too narrow.
“I’m not sure if I would have gotten an abortion if the TRAP laws existed. I didn’t have a job at the time. I can’t imagine having to drive to a further clinic and pay for a hotel to wait 72 hours — it’s already too expensive just paying for the procedure. I would have probably done something else,” said Casteel, who now helps women advocate for their reproductive rights in Columbia, MO.
“I might have even tried a DIY approach if I couldn’t see a doctor.”
A study of the Texas law that’s coming before the court this week confirms Casteel’s point. Researchers found that many women couldn’t afford to take time off to make a trip to the nearest clinic, forcing them to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. Texas’ law has even forced thousands of women to attempt to conduct their own illegal abortion.
Casteel came to Washington, D.C. to rally with other pro-choice supporters on Wednesday on the steps of the Supreme Court. It took her a decade before she opened up about her abortion story with coworkers and friends, and on the eve of the arguments, she admits she’s still a bit nervous to talk about her abortion with others.
“Each time I tell my story is a little scary,” Casteel said. “But I’ve realized how important it is to be brave and share. I know I won’t be alone.”
She said she wants her own story — and ones she’s heard from other women living under Missouri’s TRAP laws — to illustrate how this case’s decision could play out across the entire country.
“This law could make it really, really difficult for people in the most need, like I was, to get a safe abortion,” she said. “This is a personal decision, not a political one. There’s a real person behind each story. That’s why I need to share mine.”
Casteel said she doesn’t want to see women forced into raising a child when they aren’t prepared. When she became pregnant at 19, Casteel said she was “being reckless” with her body. It was in no shape to nurture a growing fetus, let alone raise a child.
“I didn’t want it. It wasn’t the right time for me to be a parent at all,” she said. “The biggest way to make change in our world is to give children what they need to be healthy and happy. Let’s not leave that up to politics.”