SOUTH BEND — The landmark Supreme Court decision striking down Roe v. Wade doesn’t close South Bend’s only abortion clinic, but it sets the stage for a string of events that could end with Whole Woman’s Health Alliance no longer providing abortions in Michiana.
Indiana is not one of 22 states with already established laws or constitutional amendments meant to outlaw abortions in most cases following a ruling. But it is one of four states deemed likely to severely limit the procedure given its legislative record of tightening restrictions, according to an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that supports keeping abortion legal.
Katie Blair, the public policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, said state lawmakers could impose abortion restrictions during a special session starting July 6.
Gov. Eric Holcomb has said he intends for the session to address inflation by sending a collective $1 billion from the state’s budget surplus back to tax-paying Hoosiers. But Blair said she’s “incredibly nervous” that Republicans will vote on abortion laws.
The CEO of Virginia-based Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, Amy Hagstrom Miller, acknowledged that she is more concerned when Indiana lawmakers will effectively ban abortion, not if they will. If it doesn’t happen in a legislative session this year, the issue will be forced in the first few months of 2023 when lawmakers convene in Indianapolis.
“Our hope will be that we will continue to provide abortion care in South Bend, but we do anticipate that the governor and the legislature may take steps to ban abortion in Indiana,” Hagstrom Miller told The Tribune in a phone interview June 17.
“For the time being,” she said, “we’re going to keep on keeping on.”
But she was clear: “If abortion is criminalized in the state of Indiana, we will not provide abortions. We provide safe and legal abortions at Whole Woman’s Health Alliance.”
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Since the nonprofit clinic opened at 3511 Lincoln Way West in June 2019, it has provided medication-induced abortions to more than 1,000 patients, representatives say. In a properly staffed week, 20 to 30 patients come to have abortions.
Just over half of the patients served were in their 20s and 9% were ages 16 to 19, according to data provided by Whole Woman’s Health. But 38% were over 30 years old, demonstrating the broad range of people who seek abortions for a variety of reasons, clinic officials said.
Of the 7,756 abortions performed in Indiana in 2020, three of five patients were in their 20s and nearly a third were over 30, according to state data.
Abortion denials are proven to increase the likelihood of economic hardship for women forced to give birth, as well as cause financial instability for the children they raise, according to a University of California San Francisco study cited by Hagstrom Miller.
She said the demand for abortions in Michiana won’t dissipate simply because of laws restricting the service.
“If we block people’s ability to get abortions from trained medical folks like us, people are still going to seek abortion care,” she said. “Some people who have needs and the resources will travel. … Other people will be forced to carry a pregnancy they don’t feel ready for, they don’t feel able to sustain.”
Midwestern havens for reproductive health care are limited to Illinois and Minnesota, according to the Guttmacher analysis. Hagstrom Miller is monitoring a lawsuit by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, asking the Michigan Supreme Court to resolve uncertainty about a 1931 state law that could ban abortion in nearly all instances.
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Hagstrom Miller sees a world in which traveling hundreds of miles to the closest East Coast states without looming abortion bans, Virginia and Pennsylvania, may also feel reasonable.
She also highlighted the Abortion Wayfinder Program, which Whole Woman’s Health began in response to Texas’ ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy — effectively a complete prohibition. Clinic representatives help people to arrange for transportation, child care and lodging while connecting them with providers in states that continue to allow abortions.
The nonprofit established a pilot of the program in Illinois this spring. Because of Indiana’s statewide ban on telehealth for abortions, however, Indiana residents must be in Illinois for every step of the health care process, which includes an appointment with a provider and shipment of a pill to an Illinois address.
For a Whole Woman’s Health employee at the South Bend clinic, the Supreme Court ruling unleashes a cascade of obstacles for women seeking abortions.
Stacie, whose last name The Tribune agreed to omit because of the possibility the stigma surrounding abortion care could threaten her safety, said she and her colleagues have resolved to serve women seeking abortions as long as possible, even in the face of uncertainty about their future employment at the clinic.
It’s all they can do at the moment, as forces beyond them shape their imminent futures.
“It is anxiety-inducing, the way that it is for many, many other people who do this sort of work across the country,” Stacie said.
“Really what it does is it just re-motivate myself and the rest off the staff to keep fighting for what we believe in,” she continued, “and to see every last patient that we can until they tell us that we can’t anymore.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism