Last week, I wrote about the groundbreaking Supreme Court case Roe vs. Wade, which legalized abortion 40 years ago, and the ways in which women’s reproductive rights have been chipped away at every since.
Although abortion has been legal at the federal level, since 1992 individual states have been allowed to enact legislation relating to abortion, as long as the laws do not prohibit abortion altogether or pose unnecessary roadblocks for women who wish to terminate a pregnancy. With time, many laws have been allowed to slide which do hinder a woman’s access, such as invasive ultrasounds, shaming “consultations” that remind a woman that a fetus is considered a separate human being, and parental consent laws for minors.
As I said last week, Pennsylvania’s record of laws that hinder abortion access is disheartening. Among its laws, the state requires parental consent for young women under age 18 seeking an abortion, and any abortion provider must be within 30 miles of a hospital that agrees to treat patients from that provider in case of an emergency.
What does all this mean for Fayette County?
The idea for this two-part feature germinated for me when I decided to go to Planned Parenthood for my yearly exam and cervical cancer screening and learned, to my dismay, that the Uniontown Planned Parenthood that I remembered before I moved away does not exist anymore. A decade ago, this particular Planned Parenthood had been a lifesaver for young women at my high school, who would go to the clinic for free birth control and health services when they didn’t feel comfortable raising the issue with their parents. Now, the nearest Planned Parenthood for me is in Greensburg. (There’s also one in Somerset.)
After a bit of digging, I also learned that Fayette County has the highest percentage of teenage pregnancies in Western Pennsylvania, at 4.5 percent of all births, according to the Status of Women in Southwest Pennsylvania Report. Immediately, I made the connection between this high rate and the lack of a Planned Parenthood in our idea. However, when I contacted Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania to ask about the closing of the Uniontown office, they directed me to Adagio Health, which now handles women’s healthcare for uninsured and underinsured women in Fayette County. Adagio Health, located on Mill Street in Uniontown, offers many of the same services as Planned Parenthood — breast and cervical cancer screenings, contraception and educational programs — with payment on a sliding scale according to the patient’s income. Services are free for young women under the age of 18.
This is all good news. Now for the bad. Despite access to reproductive health services, there is nowhere in Fayette County for a woman to obtain an abortion. This doesn’t make Fayette County particularly unique — 82 percent of Pennsylvania counties don’t have an abortion provider, and only 13 percent of counties nationwide do. Even still, it’s shameful that this essential medical procedure is so difficult for women to obtain, and disproportionately difficult for women in rural areas.
For women in Fayette County who wish to terminate a pregnancy, a drive to Pittsburgh is their only option. From the more rural reaches of Fayette County, that means an hour-and-a-half drive, or a two-hour-or-more ride on the FACT Bus. Could this be a factor in our higher-than-average teenage birth rate in Fayette County? It’s hard to say, but it follows that an already-scared young girl without a car — who must first get parental consent before she can get an abortion, then figure out a way to get to the city, faces very difficult obstacles. And, of course, she must also find a way to pay for the abortion, which cost between $350-$550 on average because, due to federal law, no government funds can be spent on abortion services. All family planning clinics must undergo extensive auditing every year to ensure this remains the case.
In recent years, federal funding for Planned Parenthood and other health providers for low-income women have been increasingly threatened, even though federal dollars have never paid for abortions and never will, and even though many, many Planned Parenthood clinics don’t offer abortions at all. If you are against abortion, you should be for Planned Parenthood, period. Birth control services are absolutely essential to curbing unwanted pregnancies, especially for teenagers. Why in the world would we get rid of the clinics that help them obtain it?
Although Roe v. Wade has improved the quality of life for women for the last 40 years, roadblocks and obstacles like lack of access continue to dilute it. Let’s hope another 40 years don’t bring more restrictions to reproductive freedom in Fayette County, in Pennsylvania, and in the United States as a whole.
Jessica Vozel is a resident of Perryopolis.