For years, Dr. Erin King listened to people tell her she was crying wolf when she said that abortion access could soon be taken away completely.
And then came Missouri’s eight-week ban — that has since been blocked in court —
and pronouncements from Republican politicians celebrating an "abortion-free Missouri." And then came Texas’ six-week ban
Now, the Supreme Court has heard arguments over a Mississippi law restricting abortion, which presents a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade
— the case that legalized abortion in 1973. The Associated Press
has reported that the deliberations suggested the conservative-majority court will uphold the law
“I still think that people think there's just some way out of it and I will be very frank, I'm not being pessimistic,” says King, the executive director of the
Hope Clinic in Granite City, Illinois. “I just don't think there's a way out of it. Especially after hearing the justices talk on the first. This is it. This is the end of Roe or at least a significant weakening of Roe. And what we all need to do is be prepared to help the patients as much as we can.”
Yamelsie Rodríguez, the president and CEO of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, echoed King in a statement, saying that the Mississippi case “could unravel what little is left of abortion access in states across the country.”
If that happens, a Planned Parenthood data report
estimates about 14,000 out-of-state patients — from states like Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Tennessee — would likely travel to southern Illinois for reproductive healthcare at places like Hope Clinic and Planned Parenthood’s Fairview Heights Health Center. King says Hope Clinic has seen a ripple effect since the Texas ban: Patients who can’t get care in Texas travel to neighboring states, filling up appointment slots, leaving that state’s residents to travel for their care, as well.
“People who walk into our health centers for abortion services come to us as an act of basic health care, not politics,” Rodríguez said in her statement. “That’s what we’re collectively fighting for — basic rights and freedoms, including the right to decide if and when to become a parent, for all people no matter who they are, how much money they earn, or where they live.”
King says her clinic saw an immediate increase at the beginning of 2019 when Missouri’s eight-week abortion ban passed as a law. She predicts the same “quick and significant” increase if the Supreme Court upholds Mississippi’s law, which could see other states follow suit. If that happens, King explains, there will also be multiple states that enact their trigger laws, limiting abortion access for even more people.
Hope Clinic has prepared for these laws for nearly two years now, according to King, hiring and training staff in multiple areas so the clinic can be flexible enough to handle a sudden increase of patients. King says Hope Clinic can also change their schedule quickly to accommodate the influx of patients, adding appointment times and expanding their work week — the clinic used to see patients five days a week, but now is open six days.
For King, it’s sad to see the Supreme Court justices play out “worst case scenarios” and use “antiquated arguments.” As a reproductive health specialist and healthcare provider, King says she knows how important abortion is to matters like maternal mortality and her patients' economic and health outcomes. She says the justices asked questions that were far from being based in any sort of validated research and medical conclusions, making it hard to argue back. Instead, King says they’re arguing based on their feelings or thoughts on abortion.
“And I think it's inappropriate because those things are each person's personal thoughts, not the law,” King says. “If you're deciding a court case, you would hope that someone's using stats and real expert information, not just their feelings and thoughts on it.”
King and her team are trying hard to make Hope Clinic as accessible as possible, especially since patients already face barrier after barrier. She hopes the Supreme Court case will keep the attention on abortion access and wants people to remain aware and understand how many states where abortion will be effectively illegal should the Supreme Court uphold Mississippi’s law.
Mayor Tishaura Jones, in a press conference on December 7, pledged to “fight like hell” to protect reproductive freedom
. The St. Louis Board of Aldermen also recently passed a resolution that established the “Reproductive Freedom Bill of Rights,” a declaration that declares St. Louis city as a “a sexual and reproductive health care safe zone,” according to their website
Then again, with Missouri's government entirely controlled by Republicans, it's not clear if cities like St. Louis will able to defend abortion access if the governor, attorney general and legislature make it their goal to crush local abortion access laws or attempt (again) to shut-down the state's lone remaining clinic.
To support patients who need an abortion or other reproductive healthcare, King suggests donating to abortion funds like the Midwest Access Coalition
“None of us wanna see this happening,” King says. “It is just, I mean, in my mind, unacceptable and tragic at this point. Obviously, the best thing we can do is be as accessible as possible and provide our services for as low cost as we can and still buy medical supplies and pay staff and also help get the patients here that they need.”
Follow Jenna on Twitter at @writesjenna. Email the author at [email protected]
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