If Roe is overturned, Mountain West will see women’s health gaps become ‘abortion deserts’

know about If Roe is overturned, Mountain West will see women’s health gaps become ‘abortion deserts’

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When Julie Burkhart learned of the draft Supreme Court ruling that would end abortion protections, she let out an involuntary scream from her seat on the plane. “Because she felt like she was punched in the stomach,” Burkhart said. “And then going into the review and reading that, it was chilling.”

Burkhart, who lives in Colorado, has long been at the center of the battle over abortion access, one that is deepening in the Mountain West and across the country. He has worked to expand access to reproductive rights for decades. His mentor, Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider in Witchita, Kansas, was murdered by an anti-abortion extremist in 2009.

Tiller’s death and trends limiting access to abortion across the country forced Burkhart to focus more on what she calls “abortion deserts.”

Four years after Tiller’s death, Burkhart opened an abortion clinic at his old location in Witchita, making it the only place to get an abortion within a 200-mile radius.

Today, she’s focused on another abortion wilderness: Wyoming, where there’s only one provider in the entire state. Women’s Health and Family Care is located in Jackson, the exclusive mountain town in the far northwest corner of the state. It only offers medical abortions up to 10 weeks gestation.

Burkhart has had Wyoming on his radar for years, and little has changed in terms of its abortion resources. So his non-profit organization, Wellspring Health Access, is opening the state’s only surgical abortion clinic this summer in Casper, a central Wyoming city of about 60,000 people. And it continues despite the fact that protesters congregate outside the clinic every week. despite an alleged act of arsonand despite a triggering new law signed by Gov. Mark Gordon in March that will ban most abortions if Roe v. Wade.

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The sponsor of the law has I call Wyoming’s activation law “an opportunity for women to work with life-affirming centers, to work with resources in their community, to help remove barriers so they can carry to term.”

Wyoming’s activation law is “an opportunity for women to work with life-affirming centers, to work with resources in their community, to help remove barriers so they can go to term.”

Wyoming Representative Rachel Rodriguez-Williams

But for Burkhart, such arguments overlook social inequalities. She points out that people of color and those with lower incomes are disproportionately affected by abortion deserts. In Wyoming, that includes Native American women, who face a maternal mortality rate more than double that of white women. She and a group of Wyoming advocates chose Casper for the clinic. central location, but plan to offer mobile services for women living on the Wind River Reservation about 100 miles away and in other remote communities.

Liza Fuentes, a senior research scientist at the Guttmacher Institute, which advocates for reproductive rights, said these systemic inequalities run deep. Black women (who face the highest maternal mortality rates) and indigenous women have long been denied the rights and resources to care for themselves and their families as a result of multiple policies: “not only women abortion bans, not just the Hyde Amendment, but the fundamental segregation of health care, the disproportionate application of criminal enforcement affects the ability of women of color to decide if, when and how to have a child and raise them in a healthy environment ”. she said.

For many women of color who live in places that have restricted access to abortion, Fuentes says, the distance to the next closest provider becomes much greater, so to speak, when you factor in the cost of travel and time off. at work.

That distance could take you to Colorado, which seems a continent away from Wyoming when it comes to abortion access. It recently codified the right to abortion. Advocates now anticipate that the state’s abortion providers will bear a disproportionate burden due to activation laws not only in Wyoming but also in Utah and Idaho.

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Texas’ abortion ban could offer a breakthrough. Dr. Warren Hern, for example, said he is seeing “twice as many patients” at his Colorado clinic since the Texas law took effect last September.

The 83-year-old doctor has witnessed the long and tumultuous history of reproductive rights in the United States. In 1973, when the Roe decision legalized abortion, he helped launch a nonprofit abortion clinic in Boulder. He today describes his private practice as “an intensive care abortion unit.”

“We see patients from all over the country, and have for decades, who can’t be seen in other places because the situations are more complicated,” he said. “Patients are more advanced. Many have fetal abnormalities.”

Hern said his patients sometimes come in crying because of these fetal abnormalities, conditions diagnosed in the second trimester that endanger the health of the mother or baby.

Despite everything, he still sees his work as a calling. He recalls his days as a Peace Corps doctor in Brazil, where abortion is a crime. He describes a hospital where there were two wards full of women having unsafe abortions. Half of those women in abortion rooms died because they were too sick to save, he said. He now worries that there will be more illegal and dangerous procedures in the abortion deserts of the West if Roe is overturned.

The prospect of this weighs heavily on Jennica Heywood. The Utah resident had an abortion in 2015.

“It was a really difficult decision. I’ve always wanted to be a mom. I have always wanted children,” she said.

Heywood was 20 years old and in an abusive relationship when she decided to have an abortion. She says her lack of education made it difficult for her to discern the sexual coercion she experienced.

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“Because there is little to no sex education here in Utah, coercion is not necessarily something that is understood, explained, covered up or given any kind of weight,” he said.

“It was a really difficult decision. I’ve always wanted to be a mom. I’ve always wanted children.”

Jennica Heywood

I was confused about even fundamental things, like how pregnancy happens and how quickly it can happen.

Today, Heywood uses the word “gratitude” a lot. Gratitude for having been able to access a safe abortion through Planned Parenthood, “gratitude” for not having a child with the wrong partner. She wonders if she could ever break out of the “abusive and manipulative relationship” she was in.

Back in Wyoming, Julie Burkhart has been surveying the vandalism at the Casper abortion clinic. On May 25 someone set fire to the building, an act of suspected arson, and the damage is delaying its planned opening in June. But Burkhart keeps going regardless, even as he prepares for the Supreme Court to deliver a devastating verdict.

“At the end of the day, what do we want? We want to be able to provide reproductive health care services in the state of Wyoming and we want it to remain legal,” Burkhart said. “And in this environment, that’s pretty important.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, supported by affiliate stations throughout the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau comes in part from the Public Broadcasting Corporation.

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