Abortions are a critical part of healthcare, but accessing an abortion is a challenge, particularly in the South.
In a state like Georgia, over 90 percent of the counties have absolutely no abortion providers, requiring folks to travel several hours just to get to a clinic. And that’s just one of the barriers people face when trying to get abortion care.
Access Reproductive Care – Southeast, also called ARC-Southeast, steps in to fill the gaps in access as much as they can. The organization is led by executive director Oriaku Njoku, who previously worked in abortion clinics before co-founding this organization.
Njoku spoke with Better Georgia about the work she and her organization are doing. ARC-Southeast provides funds for people facing the decision between paying rent and paying for an abortion — which cannot be covered by most sources of health insurance thanks to restrictive state and federal laws — and they also provide practical support, like helping with transportation and accommodations.
“Since doing this work, I’ve never been more proud to be a Southerner,” Njoku told Better Georgia. “When you think about the strength and resiliency of people of color, especially, but Southerners, in general, who are accessing care. Like, we will do what we need to do to get the care that we need and deserve.”
One in three women will get an abortion in their lifetime. But getting an abortion requires navigating a challenging, anti-abortion landscape, rife with barriers and restrictions. For just this reason, ARC-Southeast set up a help line to aid people navigating these many barriers by providing financial and practical support.
“The majority of the people who call, you know, do need that abortion funding,” Njoku said. But the organization also helps by providing rides to and from appointments or arranging housing if someone has a two-day procedure.
Njoku said she and her staff regularly hear, “I need a ride to the clinic, or I need a place to stay, or I don’t have anyone to come with me.” This is especially true for people who live in rural Georgia, hours from the nearest abortion clinic. Taking time off from work, paying for gas, paying for childcare, and pay for lodging all add to the cost of getting an abortion.
The financial difficulties that come with trying to pay out-of-pocket for a medical procedure create barriers to accessing abortion care, as does the stigma that comes with getting an abortion. Callers may be uncertain if they can ask anyone they know for help — even just to be company to and from the appointment — without risking people’s judgement and condemnation.
“Because of the shame and stigma associated with accessing abortion care, they may not have anyone who would come with them, you know, to their appointment,” Njoku said, later clarifying, “There should not be fear and stigma associated with accessing [abortion] care.”
There are a lot of reasons someone decides to get an abortion, a decision one in three women will make in their lifetime, and all the reasons someone chooses an abortion are valid. But, by far the most common reason is that someone is already a parent and know they are unable to take care of another child.
In fact, the majority of the people ARC-Southeast serves are already parents. Njoku shared that she and her staff frequently have conversations with folks worried about being able to provide enough for their children.
“A majority of the callers that we’ve had so far since our help line has been open are actually parents,” Njoku shared. “A lot of people say ‘I just want, when the time is right, I just want to be able to give my child the best life that I can.’ You know?”
And the folks calling ARC-Southeast aren’t unusual in this; more than 60 percent of people seeking an abortion in this country are already parents. There is so much misinformation about who seeks an abortion and why, that the research group Guttmacher Institute actually produced a PSA about it.
ARC-Southeast also spends time with callers, dispelling common myths perpetuated by anti-abortion advocates. These include the belief that abortion causes breast cancer (not true), or that having an abortion will lead to infertility (also not true).
“Some people of course think ‘if I have an abortion will I be able to have kids again?’” Njoku said, adding that people most certainly can and do have healthy pregnancies after getting an abortion. “I think that’s just unfortunately the power of the right and the conservatives, and how on point their messaging can be. Just putting that fear around like this idea of abortions.”
Abortion clinics are scattered across some of the state’s major cities — Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus and Savannah — numbering only about a dozen. As long as so few clinics exist, coupled with far too many barriers, women will continue to face challenges accessing an essential form of health care.