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The New Underground Railroad


Adeena got here only with the help of the Women’s Medical Fund, a Philadelphia-based group that helps poor Pennsylvanian women pay for abortions. (There’s a similar group in Manhattan: the New York Abortion Access Fund.) “Patients often come in with part of the cost; they’ve borrowed $25 here and $25 there from friends,” says Susan Schewel, director of the Philadelphia fund. “They’ve postponed paying utility bills or they’ve pawned things. We had a woman the other day who sold her dog.”

But chasing an ever-burgeoning fee isn’t the only thing that delays abortions. As Levine puts it, there’s often “some combination of denial and disorganization and general flakiness” going on as well. Some women have breakthrough bleeding, assume they’re having periods, and fail to realize they’re pregnant until after the first trimester. Other women delay seeking an abortion because they’re holding out hope that a relationship is going to work.

One woman I hosted had five kids and a husband in the military in Iraq. “He’s got an immature streak that the war is making worse. I think he’s running around on me over there,” she told me. “What’s for sure is he can’t handle another baby right now, and neither can I.” Her pants strained over her girth. She’d waited this long, she said, because her mother, whom she worshipped, told her that if she went through with it she’d burn in hell. And also because “my sister told me abortions hurt.” I kept my face straight.

The worst story is really no story at all. The first woman Levine ever hosted was here having a late-term abortion because she had simply “put off” dealing with her pregnancy until it was almost too late. The delay certainly didn’t seem to be for financial reasons: “She had a late-model pickup truck that was better than my car,” remembers Levine, “and I wondered, Why am I the one paying for dinner?

Levine rolled out the red carpet anyway. “I had to tell myself, ‘Every abortion is the choice of the woman having the abortion. This is about somebody else’s body. It’s not President Bush’s body, but it’s not mine, either,’ ” she says. “Being pro-choice is a morality that takes you morally out of the picture.”

Most of the time, it feels good to have helped. I remember a mother who came with her 15-year-old daughter. For a while the girl—her boyfriend was also 15—had tried not to think about the pregnancy. Then she tried to raise the money while keeping the whole thing a secret. When her mother figured it out and got the girl to a doctor, they were told she must have an abortion in four days or it would be too late. The two arrived here in a fever of activity: multiple ATM transactions, hours of driving through the night, and sudden, heart-to-heart conversations. Over tea at my house, the mother gazed at the daughter as if she’d been hit by lightning and lived.

I was relieved for them, but at the same time I felt a twinge of paranoia. What if the older woman was really the girl’s aunt or big sister and just pretending to be her mom? Right now it wouldn’t matter: Unlike many states, New York does not have a parental- consent law requiring that a minor get permission from a parent for an abortion. But this spring, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, which would make it a crime to give a girl an abortion without her mother’s or father’s okay. The bill hasn’t passed in the Senate yet, but if it does, Haven could be in trouble. “It would only take one crazy person to say, ‘You kidnapped my daughter,’ if you host a 15-year-old,” warned a Haven coordinator at a recent meeting. The organization is incorporating, so that if this happens, its board of directors, and not individual hosts, will take the rap.

Back at my place, Ashanti’s nice boyfriend in Coach Carter has come around and decided to support the baby. But Ashanti has already had the abortion. She says she did it “for me.” But as she elaborates, all she talks about is Kenyon. “I think you should go to school and play ball and do your thing,” she says. “I think you should be all you can.”

“Hey, girl!” Adeena yells at the screen. “How about you?” She turns to me. “What about Ashanti’s thing, huh? What about hers?”

“You’re right,” I say. “What about hers?” It seems like Adeena is about to tell me her story: why she ended up needing the clinic and what she wants out of life when she’s finished there. But the movie credits are rolling and she asks for lights out. I set the alarm, fluff the quilt, and tuck her in.

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