As ‘Trigger Law’ Looms, New Clinic Preps to Provide Abortions in Conservative Bastion

Greater than 100 folks have been attending weekly anti-abortion prayer vigils outdoors the positioning of a future Casper, Wyoming, clinic providing abortion and different well being care providers. (Arielle Zionts / KHN)
A young woman holds a sign that reads, "Mind Your Own Business!"
Abortion rights supporter Rikki Hayes demonstrates close to the positioning of a Wellspring Well being Entry clinic as a result of open this summer time. Hayes was amongst a cluster of protesters attending a weekly prayer vigil held by abortion opponents. (Arielle Zionts / KHN)

CASPER, Wyo. — A modest, tan constructing sandwiched between a gasoline station and a small condominium home close to this Western metropolis’s downtown has turn into an surprising point of interest of America’s abortion debate, simply weeks earlier than Wyoming might outlaw the process.

Inside, a nonprofit is renovating the area right into a clinic that, starting in June, can be the one one in Wyoming to supply procedural abortions. The Casper clinic additionally would turn into the closest possibility for folks in what the nonprofit’s founders describe as an “abortion desert,” extending into western Nebraska and South Dakota.

Outdoors, on a latest Thursday, greater than 100 abortion opponents gathered for a prayer vigil on the sidewalk alongside a busy five-lane avenue. A smaller group of vocal abortion rights advocates assembled close by.

The protest teams congregate weekly as work to open the clinic continues, regardless of an imminent U.S. Supreme Court docket determination anticipated to reverse constitutional protections for abortion rights supplied by the landmark 1973 case Roe v. Wade. A lately handed “set off regulation” in Wyoming would take impact days after such a ruling, banning most abortions within the state.

Teenagers, younger adults, dad and mom with young children, and seniors silently held indicators emblazoned with Bible verses or slogans, akin to “Abortion hurts ladies,” through the latest vigil.

One man walked by the group yelling anti-religious slogans, whereas a gaggle of teenagers took a much less confrontational method to counter the vigil’s message by chanting “My physique, my selection.”

A number of drivers passing by honked in assist of the anti-abortion group or yelled expletives and, “It’s my physique!”

The opposing teams of demonstrators don’t see eye to eye on a lot, however they appeared to agree on one factor: They’re stunned the clinic is opening in Wyoming, an overwhelmingly Republican state the place 70% of voters supported Donald Trump within the 2020 presidential election — the very best proportion of any state.

“I by no means thought I might see an abortion clinic come to Wyoming, not to mention Casper, simply because it’s extra conservative,” 39-year-old Robin Holmes mentioned through the vigil.

Holmes wore a customized T-shirt and held a selfmade poster, each saying “Unborn Lives Matter.” She mentioned her daughter turned pregnant in her teenagers however determined in opposition to abortion and is now elevating the kid.

Rikki Hayes, who helps the brand new clinic, discovered a bit of cardboard on her option to the vigil and held it up after writing “Thoughts your individual enterprise!”

“I didn’t assume in 1,000,000 years that we, in Casper, would ever get one. We’re in Wyoming,” mentioned Hayes, a 21-year-old espresso store supervisor.

A photograph of the Wellspring Wyoming Health Access clinic. The single-story building is a khaki brown color, and a has a large tree growing in the small yard in front of it.
The longer term website of the Wellspring Wyoming Well being Entry clinic is a residential-style constructing sandwiched between a gasoline station and a small condominium home close to downtown Casper, Wyoming.(Arielle Zionts / KHN)

The thought to open a clinic in Casper got here from Wyoming activist Christine Lichtenfels. She shared her suggestion with Julie Burkhart, a Colorado resident and veteran of the nationwide abortion rights motion

The one different Wyoming clinic providing abortions is in Jackson, a five-hour drive west of Casper and close to the Idaho border. It provides solely remedy abortions as much as 10 weeks of gestation.

“I simply thought, ‘Gosh, why can’t we get one thing in Casper?’ It’s the right location, just about within the middle,” Lichtenfels mentioned.

Burkhart agreed and based the nonprofit Wellspring Health Access in Might 2021 to open the clinic and plan different tasks geared toward increasing entry to abortion. Lichtenfels is an legal professional and board member of Chelsea’s Fund, a nonprofit that gives monetary help for Wyoming residents looking for abortions. She mentioned taking a day or extra to journey to an appointment creates logistical and monetary burdens for many individuals.

“You could have a job, perhaps you’ve obtained children, so that you’ve obtained to seek out child care,” Lichtenfels mentioned. “Perhaps you don’t have an excellent automobile, perhaps you don’t have a automobile. Or perhaps the roads are closed.”

Casper, with a inhabitants of about 59,000, is a three- or four-hour drive north or south from the closest clinics — one in Billings, Montana, and one other in Fort Collins, Colorado. It’s additionally comparatively near areas of neighboring states with out abortion providers.

Some folks in western South Dakota looking for abortions now drive 5 hours to clinics in Montana or Colorado. In the event that they keep inside South Dakota, they need to journey 4 hours to Sioux Falls, the place they face a three-day ready interval.

When organizers started planning the clinic, Wyoming had fewer abortion restrictions than many different Republican-controlled states.

Wyoming permits abortion as much as viability (about 24 weeks) and has no ban on telemedicine abortions. It has no mandated ready interval, doesn’t require docs to learn particular data to sufferers, and doesn’t require sufferers to view an ultrasound. Nonetheless, the state remained largely devoid of abortion providers.

Then, in March, Wyoming turned the 13th state to pass a “trigger law.” The regulation would make abortions unlawful 5 days after Roe v. Wade is overturned, with exceptions in circumstances of pregnancies involving rape, incest, or danger to the mom’s life.

Comparable legal guidelines are on the books in Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Utah. Coverage watchers anticipate Montana and Nebraska lawmakers additionally will pursue abortion bans. Which means many individuals from this area would want to drive or fly to different states for abortion providers if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

It doesn’t matter what the U.S. Supreme Court docket decides, the general public debate will proceed in Wyoming, each side say.

Burkhart mentioned authorized challenges might sluggish Wyoming’s set off regulation from taking impact. Even when the state outlaws abortion, she hopes the clinic will keep open to supply its different providers, akin to gynecology, testing for sexually transmitted infections, household planning, and gender-affirming take care of LGBTQ+ sufferers.

She additionally expects Wellspring Well being Entry will discover methods to assist folks in states with abortion bans discover providers in neighboring states, together with opening clinics close to state borders or bringing cell clinics or telemedicine providers to these areas.

Burkhart mentioned it could even be doable to carry cell clinics into states with abortion bans, to display, prep, and enroll folks for out-of-state appointments.

Native anti-abortion activists say that even when Wyoming bans abortion, their marketing campaign received’t finish. Bob Brechtel is a Republican former state legislator who helps arrange the weekly prayer vigils outdoors the Casper clinic.

“Rule of regulation is vital, however what’s extra vital is that we do have people who find themselves accepting and understanding of our function to defend human life in any respect phases,” he mentioned.

This story was produced by KHN (Kaiser Well being Information), a nationwide newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about well being points. Along with Coverage Evaluation and Polling, KHN is likely one of the three main working packages at KFF (Kaiser Household Basis). KFF is an endowed nonprofit group offering data on well being points to the nation.

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