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Professor David S. Cohen Co-authors ‘Obstacle Course,’ a New Book on Abortion Access

Professors Corrigan and Cohen discuss "Obstacle Course" and abortion access.

March 04, 2020

A new book by Professor David S. Cohen and UCSF sociologist Carole Joffe describes the many ways a woman seeking an abortion is burdened by the state, government and society, from the moment she finds out she’s pregnant to the moment of the procedure – if she can afford one.

It’s also a testament to the professionals and volunteers who endure hardship, frustration and sometimes harassment and violence, to ensure women can realize their legal right to choose.

Obstacle Course: The Everyday Struggle to Get an Abortion in America, published in February by the University of California Press, draws from patients’ stories and interviews with medical personnel and women’s health advocates from every state in the country to capture what it’s like navigating the numerous barriers to abortion access erected by anti-choice politicians and activists.

The authors dedicate a chapter to each step along the way to an abortion, detailing the challenges patients and providers face at each stage, from misinformation when evaluating healthcare options to difficulty getting transportation to a distant clinic.

Cost is the most common barrier for women considering abortion.

'Obstacle Course' book cover.

While speaking with Professor Rose Corrigan at a Feb. 25 book event at the Kline School of Law, Cohen said half of all abortion-seekers live at or below the poverty line. Even an uncomplicated first-trimester abortion can cost up to $600. This financial burden disproportionately affects women of color.

After being interviewed by Corrigan, Cohen was joined by a panel of reproductive rights advocates: Christine Castro, staff attorney at the Women’s Law Project; Elicia Gonzales, executive director of the Women’s Medical Fund; and Erin Grant, deputy director of the Abortion Care Network.

The Women’s Medical Fund improves access to abortion by providing funds to women who would not otherwise be able to afford the procedure, said Gonzales. While it succeeds in reducing the cost by pledging funding to an average of $131 per patient, that still only covers a portion of the total.

Castro discussed her work with the Women’s Law Project, where she assists young people who want to get an abortion without obtaining parental permission, a process in Pennsylvania that requires appearing before a judge. She also said that, outside of Philadelphia, many people in the Commonwealth lack access to clinics, and pointed out that teenagers often lack transportation, money and control of their schedules.

Panelists discuss abortion access and Professor Cohen's book, 'Obstacle Course.'

The third panelist, Erin Grant, currently works at a nationwide network of independent abortion providers but discussed their previous experience as a patient advocate in a clinic. The hardest part about clinic work, they said, was that they were required by state law to lie to patients about abortion.

Professor Cohen and the panelists said the commitment and hard work of providers and volunteers keeps them motivated. They suggested people interested in advocacy consider becoming clinic escorts, donating money to organizations fighting for abortion access, housing and transporting patients to appointments, and voting in local and national elections.

Obstacle Course has received considerable buzz and media attention, including articles in Ms. Magazine, Mother Jones and The Guardian. Cohen and Joffe have also authored several op-eds, with two published in the Washington Post, and others in Rewire, The Hill and the Huffington Post. They have also appeared on radio shows and podcasts, including the Feminist Coffee Hour podcast, Joan Esposito Live (WCPT 820 Chicago), The Electorette Podcast, the Good Law, Bad Law podcast and the New Books Network podcast. For more information about abortion access in America, visit