‘Fight for a day’: Louisiana abortion clinic still open | National

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

Yes, federal abortion protections have been rolled back, she said. The clinic was still open – but there is a waiting list and a hearing on Friday that could change everything, she added.

“We are still fighting,” clinic 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 calling for help and an impending 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 have abortions and when. Then the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade 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 overturned. But nearly two weeks after the June 24 ruling, the Shreveport clinic was still open, offering abortions to patients from across Louisiana, as well as neighboring states like Texas and Mississippi.

The clinic requested a temporary restraining order to allow the state’s three clinics to remain open, arguing that multiple trigger provisions in the law make it unclear exactly when the ban takes effect and medical exceptions of the law 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 on Wednesday the court declined to intervene immediately, leaving the abortion ban in abeyance.

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

There were about 20 consultations on Wednesday — a relatively light load, Pittman said. She attributed this to confusion surrounding future access to abortion in the state, and patients worried about coming to see but not being able to get an abortion.

Outside, volunteers escorted clients into the clinic – giving them advice like backing into parking spaces 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 scrunchie and flyers urging women not to have abortions.

The countdown to the legal battle is not lost on the staff.

Nurse Charla Roshto has worked at the clinic for more than a dozen years. Despite leaking a draft notice weeks earlier, she didn’t expect the judges to go so far as to overturn Roe. She said she had to watch the news on a co-worker’s phone to believe it.

Now it’s hard to know what to say to patients, she says. Previously, she was able to advise them clearly on when they could plan their abortion and now she cannot promise anything. She can direct them to websites and hopefully funds that can help pay for their trip to get an out-of-state abortion.

But, she said, even that can be difficult because funders worry 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 on the wall, says that hopefully next Saturday the clinic will still be offering abortions.

After Roe’s cancellation, Roshto had to call the patients and tell them their abortions had been cancelled. Then, when the temporary restraining order was put in place, Roshto called them back to reschedule. She was relieved when she saw that many could return.

But even with all that uncertainty, Roshto says the clinic is open every day and abortion is another person she can help.

“If we fight for a day, then we fight for a day,” she said. “Some of these people really need it one day.”

Caught in legal back and forth, a patient from Texas drove nearly two hours for her consultation on Wednesday. She did not want to be identified because of the stigma that still surrounds abortion.

She said she was in New Orleans for a family reunion when news broke that Roe had been knocked down. She and her partner watched for over an hour, trying to figure out what it meant to them and others in a similar position. She already has two children – aged 9 and 13 – and said she and her partner had considered whether to keep the pregnancy going but ultimately decided it was not the right time for another child. . Childcare is so expensive, she says, and even infant formula is in short supply.

Eight years ago she had become pregnant and at that time she did not feel capable of having a baby, so she had come to Hope for an abortion. This time, she is ready to maintain the pregnancy if it turns out that she cannot have one.

She considered going to Kansas or California, but the cost and hassle were too high. But she worries about other women who may be in far more desperate situations than her.

“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 performed ultrasounds on patients. She has worked at the clinic since 1999; one of his daughters also works here. She sympathizes with those who arrive.

Jordan had her first child when she was 16. She had strong support from her mother, but says not everyone has that. If women can no longer have legal abortions, Jordan worries about what they’ll do to themselves, the things they’ll find on the internet to end a pregnancy.

While working at the clinic, Jordan says she found her purpose: to do her “part in the world,” as she puts it. She tells her story to patients, listens to theirs, and lets them know that 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 handed down, Haley Brand, Hope’s patient advocacy director, said her hand was shaking so much she spilled her coffee. But like everyone at the clinic, she’s not ready to throw in the towel.

She said everyone at Hope, whether working full-time or part-time or volunteering, believes in reproductive justice and the power to decide their own course of life. She received phone calls from patients who were panicked or angry or just happy that someone answered the phone at the clinic.

“It’s been a rollercoaster of events. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions,” she said.

“But 10 years from now, when I look back on everything that’s happened in the past two weeks…I’ll know we did our best for the people we’re trying to help. And I have no regrets. So.”

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Follow Santana on Twitter @ruskygal.

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