Getting an Abortion Became More Difficult During COVID-19. A Hotline Is Trying to Help.

“I can’t think of what can be more essential and timely than accessing an abortion.”

(Joy Bogdan)

WW presents "Distant Voices," a daily video interview for the era of social distancing. Our reporters are asking Portlanders what they're doing during quarantine.

Katherine McGuiness is helping Oregonians access abortions and other reproductive health care safely during the pandemic. It's not easy.

"Even in the most aboriton-friendly states, like here in Oregon, it can still be really hard to get an abortion in the best of times," McGuiness says. "An example: We don't have any clinics east of the Cascades other than Bend."

As hotline lead for the Northwest Abortion Access Fund, McGuiness answers calls from women across the region seeking reproductive health care. She says those calls show the impact of COVID-19: They've been laid off and don't have the $500 for an abortion, or they're wary of traveling to a clinic, especially if it's far, during the pandemic.

"We've seen Alaska work to try to ban abortion using coronavirus as a mechanism to shut access down, saying it's not an essential health service," McGuiness says. "I can't think of what can be more essential and timely than accessing an abortion."

McGuiness says the hotline has seen a decline in the number of callers since the pandemic began, even though abortion clinics are still operating in Oregon. She says this could mean women are lying low until after the pandemic subsides—something that's concerning for McGuinnes, because it could mean there will be a spike in women seeking care once social distancing mandates have been lifted.

"We never want people to be pregnant longer than they want to be if it's an unwanted or unintended pregnancy that they've decided to terminate," she says.

In this interview, she talks about which states are trying to use the coronavirus to restrict abortion, how COVID-19 makes abortions harder to afford, and how the logistics of getting to a clinic have changed.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.