Op-ed: Reproductive rights restrictions hit rural communities hardest. Democrats need to stand up for them.

Autumn fall orange red colorful trees forest and farm houses buildings on rolling hills aerial above high angle view landscape in Monterey and Blue Grass, Highland County, Virginia Photo: Getty Images/ krblokhin

By Lynlee Thorne

June 4, 2024

As another contraction hit, my toddler thrust his little hand out to hold mine. The nearest hospital, where my son had been born, had closed its maternity ward shortly after his birth. Now, more than an hour’s drive over a winding mountain road separated my community—and many others—from a full-service hospital. My second child arrived safely very soon after we arrived at the hospital. But many rural people aren’t so lucky.

Rural communities will be disproportionately harmed by abortion bans that will bring new levels of pain to already strained rural healthcare systems. Rural voters have the potential to be critical allies in a coalition to defend reproductive freedom. Here are just a few examples of how abortion bans will negatively affect rural communities; hopefully Democrats will make some meaningful effort to engage with rural people before it’s too late.

Over the last few decades, rural areas have already become healthcare deserts. Greed-driven corporate consolidation of our healthcare systems has significantly decreased rural health facilities and providers. The desperate need for essential healthcare services provided by the incredible, generous volunteers at Remote Area Medical Clinics (RAM) is a profoundly damning indictment on the state of healthcare in rural areas.

Prioritizing profits over people has led to significantly poorer health outcomes in rural communities overall, where we already struggle with higher rates of chronic diseases. Denying access to the full scope of reproductive care will further aggravate rural health care systems. How much longer will these already days-long lines get as pregnant people wait in desperation at RAM clinics and overcrowded Emergency Rooms?

Abortion bans result in fewer, lower-quality options for healthcare. When abortion is prohibited, healthcare providers struggle with a moral dilemma between their oath to do no harm and the risk of serious legal threats for providing life-saving abortion services. It’s no surprise that doctors are now leaving or avoiding states with bans in place. Wherever reproductive freedom is denied, unsafe abortions and maternal mortality rates increase with the most dire outcomes for Black and indigenous people in rural areas.

Access to quality, affordable healthcare is already a financial pain point for rural residents who must travel long distances to access care—and placing bans on reproductive choices further exacerbates the problem. This is a significant barrier, particularly for low-income individuals who may not have the means to travel or take time off work. The lack of accessible healthcare options not only jeopardizes reproductive health, but also puts the overall well-being of our communities at risk as routine screenings and preventive care become increasingly out of reach. With limited job opportunities, stagnant wages, and a lack of resources like childcare, transportation, and affordable housing, abortion bans are and will continue to inflict pain on the economic stability of all rural residents and businesses. Denying people the right to privacy and the dignity of making their own healthcare decisions restricts their ability to plan for their futures, pursue education, and participate fully in the workforce, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and weak economic growth in rural areas.

If Democrats proudly call ourselves the party that leaves no one behind—let’s walk that walk. Rural voters are essential to any coalition working to protect and improve healthcare. Abortion bans on the ballot have failed in states like Kentucky, Montana, Kansas, and Ohio. A majority of rural voters oppose the extreme abortion ban agenda of the Republican Party. We have an overwhelming amount of evidence that says that we’re on the right side of a winning issue. The Democratic Party and its supporters may want to consider investing more than a measly 3% of their dollars in rural areas to ensure voters in every zip code know that their privacy and reproductive freedom are on their ballots this November.

  • Lynlee Thorne

    Lynlee Thorne lives in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley on a small farm with her 2 children and a menagerie of livestock. She has worked to serve local and regional Democratic committees in pursuit of enduring party-building, and as campaign staff for many statewide and down-ballot campaigns. Both farming and being a rural Democrat require a long-term commitment to hard work, perseverance, and the cultivation of resilient communities, which Lynlee brings to her work with Rural GroundGame.

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