So my large metropolitan city just got hit by a hurricane…well I think we did. Maybe it was just a big storm? I’m still not really sure. What I do know is that the city shut down for almost two days, which included public transit, stores, restaurants, and most importantly, outpatient medical facilities.
At work on Friday many of my co-workers seemed excited about the prospect of a forced weekend holed up in their apartments. They would get to clear their TIVO, lounge on the couch drinking wine, and just have a general good ole’ time with this “situation”. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t also excited to be on lock down for a few days, after all I had loads of reading to do for the start of my doctoral program. However, Friday afternoon I was listening to case managers call our clients to prep them for the storm and it got me thinking. The staff were instructing clients on what supplies to procure (flashlights, batteries, food, water) where/when to stock up on food (many of our clients rely on my agency for their daily meals), and how to get their daily medications (for those who receive directly observed therapy). In my head I started to think about what other health services would not be available for two days…and yes, you know where I’m going with this.
When Hurricane Katrina hit I was working in the South at an abortion clinic. I remember hearing stories through our networks of women desperately trying to find an abortion clinic after they were evacuated because the hurricane caused them to miss their appointment. Or some were even just trying to locate emergency contraception, sometimes after being sexually assaulted in the aftermath of Katrina. I envisioned all this happening again this past weekend and my heart went out to all the women who were told their appointments would be cancelled.
For a woman who finally gets the money together, the transportation, the childcare, the determination…what happens when she is then told the clinic will be closed? Or the buses aren’t running? I know that we have no control over the weather, but it just adds one more barrier. At my clinic when there were a few times we were forced to close due to circumstances beyond our control, we would “freeze” the fee for women so that they did not have to pay the extra money it would cost them to wait a week. That is one thing clinics can do, but what about women who have reached the limit of what is legal in their state? What happens to them? My heart breaks for any woman who tried to get an abortion this past weekend and will now have to carry to term. I wonder if they see this Hurricane as a sign that they were not meant to abort? For those who are not past the legal limit, how do you “do it all over again” the next week and find the time/money/transportation/childcare/determination???? I am exhausted and sad just thinking about it.
Have any of you who work in clinics dealt with these issues?