‘Fighting for a day’: Louisiana abortion clinic still open

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) — Upon receiving a call from a woman seeking an abortion, the director of Hope Medical Group for Women tried to respond as best she could.

Yes, federal protections for abortion have been struck down, he said. The clinic was still open, but there is a waiting list and a court hearing on Friday that could change everything, she added.

“We’re still fighting,” the clinic’s administrator, Kathaleen Pittman, told the woman before hanging up on Wednesday.

By Pittman’s own description, you have to be optimistic to work in abortion services. Now, with confused patients crying out for help and a looming court date threatening to end nearly all abortions in the state, that optimism is being tested like never before.

For years, Louisiana abortion clinics have operated under increasing layers of restrictions designed to limit who can get an abortion and when. So he US Supreme Court overturned The landmark Roe v. Wade Act of 1973 that provided federal protection for abortions, leaving the decision to individual states.

Like many states, Louisiana has a trigger law designed to immediately stop abortions if Roe is struck down. But nearly two weeks after the June 24 ruling, the Shreveport clinic was still open, providing abortions to patients from all over Louisiana, as well as from states like neighboring Texas and Mississippi.

The clinic filed for a temporary restraining order to allow the state’s three clinics to remain open, arguing that the law’s multiple provisions do not clarify exactly when the ban takes effect and that the law’s medical exceptions are unclear.

A New Orleans judge granted the temporary measure pending a court hearing on Friday. The state attorney general appealed directly to the Louisiana Supreme Court, but the on Wednesday the court rejected to intervene immediately, suspending the abortion ban.

At Hope, which is open Monday through Saturday, doctors perform abortions three days a week. The other days, the doctors consult with the patients, who also undergo an ultrasound. There is a state-mandated 72-hour waiting period between the consultation and the abortion.

There were about 20 queries on Wednesday, a relatively light load, Pittman said. She blamed it on the confusion surrounding future abortion access in the state, with patients worried they would come in for a consultation but not be able to get an abortion.

Outside, volunteers escorted patrons into the clinic, giving them advice such as backing out of parking spots to make it harder for protesters to get their license plate numbers. On the sidewalk, two anti-abortion protesters handed out plastic bags containing a paper rose, a hair tie and flyers encouraging women not to have abortions.

The legal battle clock is not lost on the staff.

Nurse Charla Roshto has worked at the clinic for more than a dozen years. Despite the leak of a draft opinion Weeks earlier, he hadn’t expected the judges to go so far as to overrule Roe. She said she had to watch the news on a colleague’s phone to believe it.

Now it’s hard to know what to tell patients, he said. She used to be able to give them clear advice on when they could schedule her abortion and now she can’t promise anything. She can direct them to websites and, hopefully, funds that can help them pay for travel to get an abortion out of state.

But, he said, even that can be difficult because funders are concerned about the legal ramifications of helping patients cross state lines. She tells them to stay positive and keep their spirits up and, pointing to the calendar hanging on the wall, she says that hopefully on Saturday the clinic will still be providing abortions.

After Roe was annulled, Roshto had to call patients and tell them their abortion was cancelled. Then, when the temporary restraining order was put in place, Roshto called them in to reschedule. She was relieved when she saw that many were able to return.

But even with all this uncertainty, Roshto says that every day the clinic is open and providing abortions, there is another person they can help.

“If we are fighting for one day, then we are fighting for one day,” he said. “Some of these people really need that one day.”

Caught in the legal tug-of-war was a patient from Texas who drove nearly two hours for her consultation on Wednesday. She did not want to be identified due to the stigma that still surrounds abortion.

She said that she had been in New Orleans for a family reunion when the news broke that Roe had been annulled. She and her partner watched for more than an hour, grappling with what it meant to them and others in a similar position. She already has two children, ages 9 and 13, and said she and her partner weighed whether to continue this pregnancy, but ultimately decided it was not the right time to have another child. Child care is very expensive, she said, and even baby formula is in short supply.

Eight years ago, she became pregnant and at the time there was no way she felt capable of having a baby, so she came to Hope to have an abortion. This time, she’s prepared to keep the pregnancy if it turns out she can’t have one.

He explored going to Kansas or California, but the cost and hassle were too much. But she is worried about other women, possibly in far more desperate situations than she is.

“I feel like women should have rights, you know, my body, my choice. … I stand by it 100%,” she said.

In a small room, technician Nikki Jordan was doing ultrasounds on patients. She has been working at the clinic since 1999; one of her daughters also works here. She sympathizes with those who enter.

Jordan had her first child when she was 16 years old. He had strong support from his mother, but says not everyone has that. If women can no longer legally abort, Jordan is concerned about what they will do to themselves, the things they will find on the Internet to terminate a pregnancy.

By working at the clinic, Jordan says she has found her purpose: to do her “part in the world,” as she puts it. She tells the patients her story, listens to theirs, and lets them know they won’t go to hell for their choice.

“I just believe in a higher purpose. And I believe in what is right,” she said.

When the Supreme Court decision was made, Haley Brand, Hope’s director of patient advocacy, said her hand was shaking so much she spilled her coffee. But like everyone else at the clinic, she’s not ready to throw in the towel.

She said that everyone at Hope, whether working full-time, part-time or as a volunteer, believes in reproductive justice and the power to decide the course of one’s life. She has been answering phone calls from patients who are panicking or angry or just glad someone is answering the phone at the clinic.

“It has been a roller coaster of events. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions,” she said.

“But 10 years from now, when I look back at everything that’s happened in the last two weeks… I’ll know that we did the best we could for the people we’re trying to help. And I don’t regret that.”


Follow Santana on Twitter @ruskygal.


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