As soon as the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case last year, abortion clinics in conservative states knew moving would be unpreventable. Since then, the nightmares of clinic owners and abortion providers have come true, as abortion bans have been implemented in eight states, with 18 more expected to follow. Clinicians hope that by relocating to the nearest abortion-friendly state, patients will still have relative ease of access in the currently limited landscape.
Whole Women’s Health, an independent abortion provider with locations in Texas, Virginia, Maryland, and Minnesota, is seeking to move its Texas clinic to New Mexico to provide first and second-trimester abortions. They have launched a GoFundMe and are asking for support as they pack up their four Texas clinics and relocate to provide relief during this healthcare crisis.
“Even when the courts and the politicians have turned their backs on Texans, we never will,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, the president and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health and Whole Woman’s Health Alliance.
Whole Woman’s Health, which has been operating in Texas for nearly 20 years, now has to move all of its equipment and buy and renovate a new building while relocating and hiring staff across state lines. Abortion clinics everywhere are gearing up to see an increase in patients coming from states where abortion is banned. The surge could also create a struggle for people in states where abortion is legally protected as their clinics see an influx of patients from out of state. New Mexico, one of the only Southern states where abortion will remain legal, is undoubtedly an oasis in the surrounding abortion desert.
Miller said that ever since Senate Bill 8 went into effect in September 2021, which banned abortion after six weeks, the clinic has been doing the work to help Texans access care outside of the state. Whole Woman’s Health launched the Wayfinder program, which helps people ineligible for an abortion in Texas travel out-of-state for abortion care by securing travel, funding, appointments, and other logistics. The program will not be expanded to the national level.
“I hate to call it a dress rehearsal, but we have already experienced this over the last nine months,” Miller said. “We’ve been working through our fundraising and our nonprofit programs to help people who are traveling from Texas to get abortions elsewhere. We know from our own experience that the clinics that are already in New Mexico and the other surrounding states just can’t accommodate the demand, but it’s going to come from Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, all the places where abortion is not acceptable.”
Miller hopes to have the new clinic open within two months. In the interim, Whole Woman’s Health is only seeing patients for follow-up exams, securing patient records, and wiping out their operations. They will not perform other non-abortion related services, such as well-women exams and pap smears.
“It’s sort of like telling a heart surgeon they can no longer perform heart surgery, but they’re allowed to check people’s blood pressure,” Miller said. “We can’t keep a clinic open sustainably if we’re not allowed to provide the services that we’re there to provide. We have undertaken a wind-down process for our Texas clinics. But we won’t be able to stay open for other services because it’s just not sustainable in the Texas environment for us to keep our clinics open.”
Across Texas, Whole Woman’s Health has 30 staff members and over 15 physicians. Some of Whole Woman’s Health staff work remotely answering phones, but they have already begun laying people off. Miller hopes the GoFundMe campaign will help support some staff relocating to New Mexico from Texas. But, the move is not realistic for all staff members who are rooted in their Texan communities and have families in the Rio Grande Valley and Dallas Fort Worth areas. People who are able to relocate have been offered work in the other states where Whole Woman’s Health is already operating.
“For some people a relocation just isn’t an option,” Miller said. “It’s a tough process for a lot of the clinic staff who have been forced to stop the work that they love.”
Abortion clinics in other conservative states are dealing with similar issues. At Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, North Dakota, the official abortion ban does not go into effect until July 28. The lone abortion clinic in the state filed a lawsuit on July 7 that would block the enforcement of the state’s near-total ban. The state would ban all abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or to protect a pregnant person’s life and makes it a felony for doctors to perform the procedure in North Dakota.
As the legal battle continues, Tammi Kromenaker, the director of Red River Women’s Clinic, wants to remind people that abortion is still legal in North Dakota, and they are still providing abortion care. Once they can no longer provide abortions in the state, Kromenaker plans to open up a new clinic in nearby Moorhead, Minnesota, which is just 15 minutes from their current location in North Dakota. The change will prevent layoffs for their staff, who are all licensed to work in both states and the commute will not be difficult.
Before abortions were outlawed, Kromenaker said Red River Women’s Clinic had already seen many patients confused about what is legal.
“We had a patient a couple weeks ago, right after the decision came out, say, ‘Will I be retroactively prosecuted for this?’” Kromenaker said. “Even while it’s still legal there’s fear.”
Another patient from South Dakota, where their trigger ban is already in place, asked if they will get in trouble and if it is okay for them to leave their state when it’s illegal there.
“I think that the fear and the shame and the stigma of knowing that their state outlawed this procedure is going to have an impact,” Kromenaker said. “There should not be this patchwork.”
Red River Women’s Clinic GoFundMe has currently raised over $900,000.
“It’s allowing us to think positively in these very dark and difficult times,” Kromenaker said.
Other abortion clinics relocating include CHOICES in Memphis, Tennessee, which is opening a clinic in Carbondale, Illinois, and Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which is moving to Las Cruces, New Mexico. Jackson Women’s Health is fundraising for the travel expenses for people having to cross state lines to receive abortion care. According to a study by the University of California San Francisco’s Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, 202 clinics are estimated to close if all states with trigger laws become enacted.
People seeking abortion care should visit www.ineedanA.com for more information on clinics actively scheduling abortions.