My husband, 5-year-old son and I climbed into our SUV and took a road trip this summer. We listened to Bob Dylan’s Highway 61, felt the breeze in our hair and played eye-spy while we watched the landscape change from fields of gold wheat to purple mountains. And we stopped to visit independent abortion care providers along the way.
Independent abortion providers are like your community’s local independent bookstore or family dentist—the clinic staff know their neighbors, and the care they provide reflects the specific needs of the community. You may be surprised to learn that these clinics provide care to three out of every five women who have an abortion in the United States, making them the most important health professionals you’ve never heard of.
Our first stop was Colorado. Here I met Jen and Sam, a couple who drove one-way more than 15 hours to get abortion care. Why did they travel so far? Previously, they’d been receiving prenatal care from a local Catholic hospital, but that hospital withheld a diagnosis of a fatal fetal heart condition until they were too far along in pregnancy to get an abortion where they lived. The hospital deliberately kept their personal medical information from them in an attempt to coerce Jen into continuing the pregnancy. I was heartbroken to see how they’d been manipulated and denied information and care. At Boulder Abortion Clinic, Jen and Sam met with compassionate health care professionals who gave unbiased information and respected the decision they ultimately made.
Jen and Sam aren’t alone—many women and families come to independent providers for care as pregnancy progresses, often when such care is banned in their home state or not available from other providers. Without independent abortion providers, access to abortion in a clinic setting after 16 weeks would drop by 76 percent.
After many hours of flat lands and bitter battles over playlists—“no, we can’t listen to the Moana soundtrack AGAIN!”— the slopes of the Grand Tetons appeared above the horizon. We made one last stop to allow a herd of Buffalo to cross the road before arriving in Jackson, Wyoming. Here we visited the last remaining abortion provider in the entire state, Emerg-A-Care.
Independent abortion care providers operate the only remaining clinics in five states: Wyoming, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota and West Virginia. In four others—Arkansas, Oklahoma, Georgia and Nevada—they are the only providers of in-clinic abortion care. Without these courageous providers, there would be no real access to abortion across huge swaths of Middle America and the South.
Our final stop was in Missoula, Montana, where we visited the Blue Mountain Clinic–rated by the community as the best clinic in Missoula for 10 years running. During our visit, my husband played with my son in the sunlit waiting room while women, men and children waited for care. Some were there to be treated for a summer cold, others for help managing their diabetes and some to receive abortion care. Many independent abortion providers, like Blue Mountain Clinic, provide a range of care—often to people facing the most barriers to accessing health services.
My road trip was inspiring, but also bittersweet, as I thought of the communities I passed where abortion providers had been shut down. When these clinics are forced to close, communities lose abortion access—and so much more. They lose trusted providers who put their patients’ needs first and treat them with dignity, compassion and respect. And, due to anti-abortion politicians and extremists, these clinics are closing at an alarming rate–with over 145 closures clocked in just the past five years.
Many in this country are understandably concerned about the future of women’s health and rights—and we have to remember the vital role of independent abortion care clinics, like Boulder Abortion Clinic, Emerg-A-Care and Blue Mountain Clinic, and the patients they serve, as we fight on. We must raise awareness about how these clinics contribute to the health and well-being of our communities, and we must act to end politically-motivated bans and restrictions that push abortion out of reach and shut clinics down.
The next time you take a road trip, think about the abortion clinics you pass along the way–those that are providing care and those who’ve been forced to shut their doors. And when you return home, donate or sign-up to volunteer at your local independent abortion provider. Your community needs that clinic.
Nikki Madsen is the Executive Director of Abortion Care Network. ACN is a national member-based organization dedicated to supporting independent abortion care providers and their allies.