Maryland becomes haven for out-of-state abortion seekers and providers

Kelsey and Katrina, who asked to be identified by their first names for security reasons, work at the front desk of Clinics for Abortion & Reproductive Excellence, an abortion clinic in Bethesda, Maryland. Staff have seen an increase in out-of-state patients and workers in the two months since Roe v. Wade. (Capital News Service/Abby Zimmardi)

BETHESDA – Off Old Georgetown Road, just south of Interstate 270 and not far from where abortion opponents are known to hang out in the median and protest, is one of the few clinics abortion center in the United States that offers abortions in the later stages of pregnancy.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe vs. Wade In late June, clinic staff worked overtime to provide care for the influx of out-of-state patients.

When abortion was a federally protected right, staff at clinics for abortion and reproductive excellence, CARE, typically saw 15 to 17 patients a week. In the two months since abortions were left to state discretion, the number of patients from other states has increased, clinic officials said.

The acting clinic administrator and CARE’s medical assistant is Kelsey, identified only by her first name for security reasons. Out-of-state people now make up a large portion of patients, and many referrals come from the South, Kelsey said.

Dr. LeRoy Carhart, the medical director, echoed Kelsey’s comments.

“We’re increasing every week,” Carhart said. “We have 24 patients on the schedule right now this week…Almost every week we have one or two patients from Mississippi or Atlanta.”

Abortion providers in Maryland said they see the impact of reversing Roe vs. Wade as increasing numbers of out-of-state patients and even staff from closed healthcare facilities come to their doorsteps.

At the Hillcrest Clinic, an abortion provider in Catonsville, staff received calls from workers on abortionfinder.org and ineedana.com, websites that help people locate abortion clinics, the administrator said. of Hillcrest, Charlotte.

Charlotte, who asked to be identified by her first name only for security reasons, said she believed the calls helped out-of-state clients find her clinic.

Residents of neighboring states of Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio, as well as many patients from Texas, came to Hillcrest for abortions, she said. The result, she said, is an increase in the number of patients overall.

Clinics in Maryland were already seeing patients from West Virginia, even before this week, when the state virtually banned all abortions, due to abortion restrictions that previously existed in the state.

Whole Woman’s Health, an abortion provider, has clinics in Indiana, Virginia, Minnesota and Maryland. The organization had four clinics in Texas, but due to the state’s strict abortion laws, those clinics were closed, said Marva Sadler, senior director of clinical services. Staff at those closed facilities referred patients from Texas to their out-of-state clinics, including its location in Baltimore, she said.

At CARE, Kelsey said many of their patients come from Georgia. Under the new state law, abortions are prohibited after six weeks of pregnancy.

A Planned Parenthood Southeast official said the law’s provisions appear to be modeled after Texas abortion law, which allows citizens to sue other Texans involved in assisting a person. to have an abortion.

Consequently, workers at Summit Medical Associate in Atlanta said that for fear of breaking the law, they were told not to refer patients to out-of-state clinics. Instead, they can only refer patients to abortionfinder.org.

“It’s really difficult,” said Yaya Guy, a medical assistant at the facility. “We know the clinics where they can go, but this part of the law prevents us from doing so.”

Many of Mississippi’s new patients at CARE are linked to the closure of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state’s sole abortion provider. The Mississippi clinic was the face of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organizationthe landmark decision that overturned Roe vs. Wade.

When women decide to venture out of state for an abortion, it can be extremely difficult, providers in Maryland said.

“Clinics close, then it becomes a struggle for women to find the next closest one, who then [involves] coordinate with child care and coordinate travel expenses,” Kelsey said. “It’s just a huge task for so many women to try to figure out how to do this.”

Looking for jobs

The reversal of deer brought not only patients to Maryland. Staff from closed abortion clinics in other states also arrive looking for jobs.

CARE’s staff now includes workers who have moved from other clinics in Maryland to continue their work as abortion providers. One staff member, Sue, who also wanted to be identified only by her first name, was from Tennessee, a state with a near-total ban on abortion.

Sue, a nurse practitioner, said she can no longer work in Tennessee because under state law performing an abortion is considered a Class C felony, which can result in up to 15 years in prison .

“I also have a young daughter, and I’m not from Tennessee, but I’ve lived there for the past 12 years,” she said. “I had always told my husband that we wouldn’t raise a girl in a state that doesn’t have comprehensive reproductive care for women. So that was kind of the last straw for us, and that’s why we moved here.

There are dozens of abortion clinics in Maryland, and more are on the way. In the most recent year for abortion clinic data, 2017, there were 44 sites in Maryland with providers offering abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that reports reproductive health and rights.

“Fortunately, there are enough clinics in Maryland that I think we can take care of everyone in Maryland who needs us, and then do whatever we can for people out there,” he said. said Sue.

Dr. LeRoy Carhart, CARE’s medical director, is working six days a week instead of the normal four due to the increase in out-of-state patients. (Capital News Service/Abby Zimmardi}

As a nurse practitioner, Sue is legally authorized to perform abortions in Maryland under the Abortion Care Act, which was passed by the General Assembly in its last session and went into effect July 1. . The new law provides $3.5 million to train nurse practitioners and other health professionals to perform abortions.

As a result, Carhart said, he trained two nurse practitioners to work at CARE performing abortions. In addition to nurse practitioners, CARE’s staff has grown to include one registered nurse, six physician assistants, one full-time physician, and three part-time physicians.

Although CARE’s team has grown, Carhart said he was working six days a week instead of four, his typical work schedule before the Supreme Court ruling.

“They are devastated”

Carhart began performing abortions in 1970 as a junior in medical school. He is well known for performing abortions in late pregnancy. He worked with George Tiller, a doctor who performed the same procedures in Kansas, who was shot while attending church in 2009 in Witchita, Kansas, by an anti-abortion extremist. In 2013 he was featured in a documentary about the life and murder of Tiller,

Carhart was threatened in 1991 when anti-abortionists started numerous fires on his Nebraska property that burned down his home and farm, killing 21 horses, a dog and a cat.

Additionally, Carhart was involved in the U.S. Supreme Court case Stenberg v. Carhart, in which Carhart argued that a Nebraska law banning “partial-birth abortion” violated the Fourteenth Amendment. The United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Carhart in 2000.

He is also known for Gonzales vs. Carhart, in which Congress passed and former President Bush signed into law a bill banning partial birth abortions. Carhart sued to prevent the law from taking effect. The United States Supreme Court ruled against him in a 5-4 decision in 2007.

Carhart recently treated an out-of-state patient at CARE who was forced to carry her pregnancy for 30 weeks because where she lived in the Southeast, an area with restrictive abortion laws, she could not find no clinic that could legally give her an abortion at her stage of pregnancy, Carhart said.

The woman wanted an abortion because her baby had a brain haemorrhage, hadn’t moved in weeks and had no chance of surviving, he said.

“It just took her this long to find someone who would take care of her, and that’s the most important part right now,” he said. “They are devastated. They don’t know where to go. »

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