They describe her as desperate, scared, and frequently broke. Some have been victims of rape or domestic violence. Others are new mothers who are still breastfeeding their children. Another pregnancy so soon, they say, is too much for them to bear.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Angela Huntington, an abortion navigator for Planned Parenthood in Missouri who is assisting callers in rescheduling canceled abortion appointments — some hundreds of miles away from their homes — since Roe v. Wade’s decision.
The decision has caused a travel panic across the country, with an increasing number of states prohibiting the procedure. Clinics are being relocated, doctors are counseling distraught patients, donations are pouring in to non-profits, and one group is dispatching vans to administer abortion pills. Some cities, such as Kansas City and St. Louis, are also developing plans to assist with travel logistics.
For months, Huntington has been preparing for this moment. Even before last week’s decision by the United States Supreme Court to end constitutional protection for abortion, the procedure had become difficult to nearly impossible to obtain in states such as Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri.
Now, a new set of laws is taking effect. After a federal court allowed the state’s ban on abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy to take effect on Tuesday, staff at a clinic in Nashville were flooded with calls from patients trying to understand the new legal landscape.
When the decision was made last week, some patients in Arkansas were already on their way to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Little Rock to obtain medication-induced abortions. They were sent home as soon as they arrived.
Huntington and others attempt to assist in relocating their appointments to clinics in Kansas, Illinois, and even Colorado. If a patient is low on funds but has access to a reliable vehicle, Huntington can provide gas cards. She coordinates commercial flights and lodging with nonprofits. Elevated Access, she said, has enlisted volunteer light aircraft pilots in recent weeks to transport patients to abortion appointments, sometimes departing from small rural airstrips.
“It’s been hell,” said Dr. Jeanne Corwin, a gynecologist at a clinic in Dayton, Ohio, where most patients are being turned away after new state rules prohibiting abortions after a heartbeat can be detected went into effect. Many are being transported across the border to Indiana and the clinic’s sister facility in Indianapolis, where Corwin also works.
They are desperate, according to her, including a patient in her 30s who was recently diagnosed with advanced melanoma and is in her first trimester.
Time may also be running out for women diverted to Indiana, where lawmakers are expected to revisit the state’s abortion laws during a special session beginning July 6.
According to Lupe Rodriguez, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, the situation is especially difficult for illegal immigrants.
Many of them lack the necessary documentation to board a commercial flight, and border agents occasionally search buses for illegal immigrants, she said.
In Missouri, where abortions are already severely restricted, a new ban went into effect Friday that allows the procedure only in “cases of medical emergency.” Kansas City officials are considering a $300 stipend to help employees travel for abortions. In St. Louis, elected officials are considering another measure that would use $1 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to pay for transportation, lodging, and other logistical support for those looking for abortion.
“It’s kind of an American nightmare that we’re scrambling to find health care like this,” said St. Louis Alderwoman Annie Rice, adding that she anticipated the measure would pass by mid-July. If that happens, abortion opponents have vowed to ask the state’s attorney general to sue.
Just the Pill is a non-profit health organization that assists patients in obtaining abortion pills. It has purchased two vans, one for medication and another for surgical abortions, with plans to start operating them in Colorado by mid- to late-July. The goal is to be close to states that have restricted or outlawed abortion.
Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, dubbed the Pink House because of its bright pink paint job, faces closure if it loses its lawsuit to overturn a state law that makes most abortions illegal as of July 7.