A rape in rural Maine
For eight years, I worked as a volunteer advocate for victims of sexual assault. When a woman was raped, they called me, often in the dead of night, to help ensure that the victim knew and understood her rights and her options for next steps to take. That’s assuming that she was conscious. If she was not able to speak for herself and there was no next of kin to speak for her, it was my job to advocate on her behalf.
I live in a very rural part of Maine and one such evening a university student was found in the middle of the night, having been raped. I was called and I met her at the hospital. She was conscious and I sat with her as we discussed her options. We did the math that many women have done throughout the course of their lives as they worked to plan their families. Based on where she was on her menstruation cycle, it was possible that, without treatment, she could be impregnated by the rapist.
And, as women across this country do every day, she chose to exercise her constitutional right to decide what was best for herself, her life, and her family situation. She asked for Plan B. Plan B is not an abortion pill, as it has falsely been called. Plan B prevents a woman from becoming pregnant. It’s called “Plan B” because if Plan A, another form of contraception, fails it can be used as a last line of defense against becoming pregnant. It’s essentially just a double-dose of birth control.
The patient expressed her wishes to the on-call doctor in the tiny hospital emergency room but the doctor said that she would not give her the drug because Plan B was against her religion, just like oral birth control. After an argument, I demanded that she get one of the on-call doctors to come in to write the prescription. She refused.
Since it was such a small hospital and the middle of the night there were very few options available. I asked if there were any more doctors in the hospital that night and I was told that there was only one: the cardiologist in the ICU in the midst of trying to stop a cardiac patient from dying. It was our last chance. I went to the ICU to find the cardiologist, whose patient was still unstable, and I waited. Once the doctor became available I explained the situation and the cardiologist came with me to check up on the student and gave her the prescription.
The student that I was with that evening had a constitutional right to access the healthcare that she wanted. Unfortunately, her story is just one of many examples of those rights being made deliberately inaccessible. There are many people and many politicians who are trying to restrict women’s constitutional right to plan their families in similar ways.
Women with Medicaid often can’t get access to abortions because federal law prohibits the use of federal money to be spent on abortion. That then leaves a low-income woman to find money to pay for her own abortion, or she’s forced to rely on the generosity of strangers through programs like Mabel Wadsworth Health Clinic in Bangor and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England in Portland.
Because of the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision, in many cases your boss can choose whether or not you should be allowed to have access to birth control through your health insurance.
Many women have to travel several hours to get to a facility that performs abortions and, in many states, it has been mandated that women have to have two appointments at that facility before they can access an abortion. This likely requires them to take two full days off of work, potentially setting up rides and find childcare twice, and makes the entire process more difficult.
Throughout my life, I have seen many different women in very different situations make very different choices. Many of them were hard, but the situations that should bother all of us most are the ones where women had the choice taken away from them. That night in the hospital was a stark example, but women have their rights to choose taken away all the time, usually because of their economic status. They deserve better.
The author of this post has asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the incident described and to ensure the privacy of those involved.
Photo via Flickr/Peter Briones
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