Can You Get An Abortion? In Some States the Answer Is Changing by the Hour
Shannon Brewer was pulling into the parking lot at work on Thursday morning when a man jumped in front of her car. The longtime clinic director at Jackson Women’s Health Organization — known locally as the Pink House and nationally as Mississippi’s last abortion clinic, the one at the center of the Supreme Court case that ended Roe v. Wade — had to swerve to miss him. The man was an anti-abortion protestor, one of more than two dozen lingering outside the clinic the day a trigger ban went into effect ending access to abortion in Mississippi.
“You say that you come out here every day to stop women from having abortions. Women aren’t having abortions today … That’s how I know that your reason for being out here has nothing to do with babies. This,” Brewer said, meaning the harassment of herself and her staff, “This is what you enjoy.”
Brewer arrived that morning ready to start packing up the clinic’s equipment and records. The day before, she helped shepherd the last women and girls who would receive a legal abortion in the state through their appointments. “I saw a lot of relief on their faces, honestly,” she says. “They were glad that they made it in time.”
Abortion was legal in Mississippi on Wednesday. On Thursday, it wasn’t. Last Thursday, abortion was still legal in Florida up to 24 weeks. On Friday, a law went into effect prohibiting the procedure after 15 weeks. On Tuesday, it was legal again for 40 minutes — the time between a district judge halting enforcement of the state’s 15-week ban, and the attorney general filing an appeal that automatically reinstated it.
This is the violent whipsaw women in Republican-dominated states have been experiencing since the Supreme Court’s decision to end Roe v. Wade — losing and gaining political control over their bodies, sometimes multiple times in a single day.
Terminations after 15 weeks are rare — they only made up about 5 percent of abortions in the state of Florida last year — but, says Laura Goodhue, executive director for Florida Alliance Planned Parenthood Affiliates, “It is the most vulnerable pregnant people that find themselves in need abortions in the second trimester.” In Goodhue’s experience, those patients often fall into two categories. The first is people who don’t realize they are pregnant. “It’s young people who can’t get to the doctor, can’t tell their parents. It’s very low-income people who do not have consistent access to birth control, or OB-GYN care. It’s a survivor of rape or incest or human trafficking, and the last thing on their mind is thinking about that missed period.” The second category is people who do know they’re pregnant, who “have a wanted pregnancy, who get the ultrasound or the amniocentesis, and find out that something’s gone terribly wrong.”
On the last day second trimester abortions were available in Florida, four of those patients sought help from Planned Parenthood. The first two, 15 and 16 weeks pregnant, were able to be seen. At that stage, Goodhue says, “it’s a one-day surgical procedure. We were able to do that, and it’s fairly quick.” The other two patients — 18 and 20 weeks pregnant — who would have required a two-day procedure, were out of luck. “We weren’t sure we were going to be able to finish” while the procedure was legal in Florida, she explains. The best the organization could do was refer those patients to a third-party website: AbortionFinder.org.
“It just feels so impersonal,” Goodhue says. “When you’re in a crisis situation that’s not what you want to be told… All of a sudden you have to drive or fly, and it’s super expensive to do that. Gas is $5 a gallon. All the flights have been canceled.”
At this time, Planned Parenthood of Florida is referring patients to clinics in North Carolina, where abortion is still legal up to 20 weeks (and where the governor has moved to protect access), but which has a 72-hour mandatory waiting period, meaning they would need to stay in the state for a minimum of three days. Florida patients also have the option, for now, of traveling to Georgia — but that likely to change any day now: a six-week abortion ban is poised to go into effect pending a decision from a federal appeals court that could come at any moment.
On a call with reporters last Friday, the heads of the biggest and most powerful reproductive rights advocacy groups in the country — Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the ACLU — tried to give reporters a sense of the shifting legal landscape, listing off the states where they’d challenged abortion bans and the dates they expected to get court decisions. There was some good news to share: Abortion bans had been stopped from going into effect in several states, including Kentucky, Louisiana, and Utah. As of this writing, the bans in those states are still on hold. By the time you’re reading this, that may have changed.
“People are waking up in states that just lost abortion access and they don’t know what to do. Clinicians have to tell patient after patient they can’t help them in that state,” Planned Parenthood’s president, Alexis McGill Johnson, told reporters.
Even in the states where abortion is still legal, like Montana, clinicians are struggling to provide care while navigating a legal minefields created by politicians in neighboring states. Last week, an internal email circulated at a Planned Parenthood affiliate in Montana, advising staff that could no longer provide certain types of care to certain types of patients.
“Patients from South Dakota (and other states with total bans CURRENTLY in effect) …will not be able to receive medication abortion services at PPMT,” the email read. “Patients residing in SD (and states listed below) MUST be scheduled for surgical abortions.” In order to implement the change, anyone receiving a medication abortion would have to provide proof of residency. The concern for providers in places like Montana, Lauren Kokum, director of affiliate communications for Planned Parenthood, tells Rolling Stone, is patients from states where abortion is banned many not be able to access the follow-up care that they could need if they have complications in their home state. The Montana provider’s decision, she says, was one that was made “out of an abundance of caution.”
Tammi Kromenaker is the clinic director of Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, North Dakota. On Thursday, the clinic filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the state’s trigger ban from going into effect as planned on July 28. She’s hearing from patients who are worried about their legal exposure.
“We’ve had patients who’ve literally said, ‘Will I be retroactively prosecuted for receiving this health care today?’ Patients coming from South Dakota saying, ‘Can I leave my state? Can I come there? Is that legal? Will somebody arrest me for that?’…All we can tell them is that, right now, abortion is legal in North Dakota, and so their appointment is legal.”
But even as they are providing that care now, and fighting North Dakota’s impending ban in court, Kromenaker and her colleagues are preparing for a near-term future in which their work is illegal. When that happens, Red River Women’s Clinic will move across the state line to Moorhead, Minnesota — a fifteen minute drive from their current facility — where they’ve secured a facility to resume operations. Many of the staff don’t even know where the new clinic is yet.
“I can’t be as transparent as I’d like to,”Kromenaker says. “It’s not that I don’t trust my staff. But my colleagues had their clinic firebombed in Wyoming. There are genuine fears about safety and security. One of the [clinic] escorts overheard a protester yesterday saying they think they know where the new space is because they saw some new construction happening — so, there’s folks who want to find out.”
As Kromenaker is working to set the new clinic up, she’s already fielding offers to help from advocacy groups in Minnesota — a novel experience for the abortion provider. “My jaw dropped to the floor,” Kromenaker said after one such offer. “‘There’s other people who work on this issue? There’s help there? …Operating in a state where there’s support, and it’s not all hostility, it’s not all, ‘Let’s shut you down.’ It’s: ‘How can we help you? How can we help your patients?’ It’s a whole different world.”
Kromenaker and her colleagues are still scheduling appointments through July 27 at their North Dakota clinic, including appointments for patients from the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, where there is almost a month-long delay to be seen. Like other states were abortion rights are protected, Minnesota is already seeing a huge influx of women from surrounding states — so many that the current number of providers can’t accommodate them all.
“Twenty four states will never be able to absorb the needs of an entire country,” McGill Johnson, Planned Parenthood’s president, told reporters last week. Even so, many clinicians in anti-choice states, like Kromenacker, are choosing to move their operations to pro-choice ones.
Whole Woman’s Health, which until Wednesday operated four clinics in Texas, is relocating to New Mexico. The staff at Mississippi’s last abortion clinic have secured a facility in New Mexico as well. Shannon Brewer and some of her colleagues will move later this year.
Brewer, though, worries about the patients the state of Mississippi is forcing her to leave behind. “We saw a young lady yesterday… She was a minor, and she was a rape case,” Brewer says of her last day at the clinic. “It was a sad, overwhelming thing for me to experience, even though I’ve experienced it, you know, millions of times. But yesterday, it hit me… That Mississippi law, it says that the only exception [to the state’s abortion ban] is cases of rape, or if a woman’s life is at risk. If a child or person is raped, and they can have an abortion, the question is, where would they have that abortion in Mississippi?”
“That has bothered me because I know that they haven’t put anything in place. They just put that [exception] there just to make it look like they were concerned about certain women, when the truth of the matter is that they’re not.”
Trump-Nominated Judge Will Now Oversee Disney-DeSantis Lawsuit
- Financial Conflict