50 years after Roe v. Wade, many abortion providers are changing the way they do business

The 50th anniversary of Roe v. calf The decision would have been a day of celebration for many pro-choice advocates.

But this landmark January 22 anniversary comes just under seven months after another landmark abortion decision: the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Judgment of June 24, which was overturned roe.

After Dobbsmany clinics in red states that have enacted restrictive abortion laws have been forced to close their doors and relocate, or stay open and dramatically shift the services they offer.

New landscapes

The CHOICES Clinic in Memphis, Tennessee opened in 1974 in direct response to the Roe v. calf decision a year earlier. When the US Supreme Court announced, it would be taken up Dobbs Jennifer Pepper, President and CEO of CHOICES, says it’s clear what’s to come.

“We knew right away that we were going to lose access to abortion in Tennessee over the next 12 months, so we started planning,” says Pepper. “It was a wild ride.”

The clinic began by opening a second location in southern Illinois — a Democrat-controlled state with a pro-abortion political environment. In October, they began seeing patients at this new location in Carbondale, about a three-hour drive from Memphis.

The Memphis Clinic has remained open and offers other types of reproductive health care, including a birth center and gender-affirming care.

New Services

In Oklahoma, where abortion was made illegal last May by a Texas-style law that threatened providers with lawsuits, the Trust Women Clinic in Oklahoma City has also focused on other services, including gender-affirming care, family planning and even opioid drug treatment.

Rebecca Tong, the co-executive director, describes the area as a “health desert”. Tong says the organization looked at what the community needed and tried to adjust accordingly.

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Jennifer Pepper, the CEO of CHOICES in Memphis, Tennessee, will lead on June 27, 2022, shortly after the announcement of the Dobbs Decision. CHOICES has since opened a clinic in Illinois.

“We are committed to staying in Oklahoma City and serving the same patient population — and an expanded patient population,” she says.

After Oklahoma banned abortion, Tong said her organization moved abortion services to her other clinic in Wichita, Kansas, where abortion remains legal.

“We treat patients twice as many days as in the past. With the current staffing level, we have never had so many employees,” says Tong. “All this is new.”

According to Tong, patient traffic in Kansas has roughly quadrupled since last summer, and the clinic has had to make changes to its phone system to handle the increased call volume.

“We changed almost everything,” she says.

new situations

Many clinics that remain open — or reopen in a new location — are at or near capacity.

The clinic in the center of the Dobbs Case, Jackson Women’s Health, transferred to Las Cruces, New Mexico. Owner Diane Derzis, who runs several clinics across the country, says they are no longer able to provide the full spectrum of reproductive health care.

“We only do abortions; we are now pure abortion clinics. That’s all we have time for,” says Derzis.

It’s also a challenging time for patients, according to Tammi Kromenaker, whose Red River Women’s Clinic relocated from Fargo, ND, to Moorhead, Minnesota last August.

“It’s a community in Fargo-Moorhead,” she says. “But the difference between the two states … is literally day and night.”

Kromenaker says many of her patients are frightened and confused.

“I literally had a patient who said to me, ‘Am I going to go to jail if I go from North Dakota to Minnesota?’ ” She says.

She assured the patient that under current law she would not be penalized for crossing state lines. However, many legal experts predict that abortion law opponents will step up efforts in the coming years to make interstate travel for abortion more difficult, if not illegal.

New frontiers, new battles

Other abortion providers are experimenting with mobile healthcare and are beginning to offer abortion pills and some surgical procedures through mobile units.

In Illinois, where a proposed parenting clinic across the state from St. Louis, Missouri, has seen an influx of patients from across the area, administrators recently purchased an RV to serve patients traveling from across the area to various temporary locations travel in southern Illinois. An organization called Just the Pill has created a similar entity based in Colorado.

The goal is to get closer to patients in states with abortion bans while staying within the borders of states where abortion remains legal.

Kristan Hawkins of the anti-abortion rights group Students for Life says activists are looking for ways to restrict abortion at the local level, even in states where it’s still legal.

“It’s going to be the city campaigns,” says Hawkins. “It’s, ‘What can we do?’ Is she going to pass some sort of ordinance in the city council? Is she becoming more active on the streets?”

Julie Burkhart, who has been involved in the abortion rights movement for decades and co-owns a clinic in Illinois, says clinics have faced resistance for years and will continue to find ways to adapt.

“We have Dobbs now, but that doesn’t mean we’re done as a service provider,” she says. “That doesn’t mean we’re done as a movement.”

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