This week the Supreme Court for the second time in four years considered a case that will have national implications for abortion providers and their patients. The core question — whether state laws that impose medically unnecessary restrictions on clinics and force them to shut down pose an undue burden to the constitutional right to abortion.
In 2016, it was an independent abortion provider Whole Woman’s Health that initially took this fight from Texas to the highest court in the nation. With this year’s case — June Medical Services v. Russo — it’s an independent abortion clinic Hope Medical Group for Women going to bat to protect abortion access for the entire country.
Whether it’s fighting for their patients in local communities, state legislatures, or all the way to the Supreme Court, independent abortion providers — or, “indies” as so many of us lovingly refer them — have been taking on these fights for years as attacks targeting them and their patients continue to ramp up.
Independent abortion providers in Georgia fought back tirelessly last year against that state’s six-week ban. Year after year, in addition to serving their state as the only abortion provider in Kentucky, EMW Women’s Surgical Center is also fighting for their patients in court, challenging the onslaught of state restrictions intended to push care out of reach entirely.
In Ohio, where clinics have been closing at an alarming rate for the last decade, anti-abortion extremists regularly harass patients and staff. When protesters dramatically vandalized Preterm, an independent provider in Cleveland, the community rallied around the clinic and its staff, showing an outpouring of love and support amid the threats.
And although these providers are as resilient and courageous as ever, the constant and persistent extremism they face to protect our basic human rights feels particularly salient in this current moment.
Since 1973 when Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the United States, politicians have been relentless in attacking the constitutional right to abortion. Though abortion remains legal in all 50 states, nearly 1,200 laws restricting abortion rights have been enacted on the state and federal levels: more than a third of these laws have been enacted in the seven years between 2011 and 2018 alone. Unsurprisingly, many of these laws have targeted clinics specifically, especially in the South and Midwest.
Less often discussed but equally important is the fact that independent clinics and their patients are disproportionately impacted by these attacks. Across the U.S., independent clinics provide the majority of abortion care — providing care to three out of five people who have abortions — but they continue to close at alarmingly high rates. Since 2012, the number of independent clinics has declined by more than 32 percent, and the ones that remain operate in some of the most politically hostile regions in the country.
In four of the six states with just one abortion clinic remaining, that last clinic is independent, and providers are often targeted by the most aggressive protesters and anti-abortion legislation in the nation.
Clinic closures are often the result of anti-choice legislation that imposes medically unnecessary regulations on abortion clinics, many of which lack the resources to meet these onerous requirements.
However, these regulations — as well as the extremist legislators who impose them — ignore the fact that abortion is safe, and as clinics close, more and more patients are forced to travel outside of their communities for care, often taking on additional expenses like hotel stays and transportation.
In my almost five years as executive director of the Abortion Care Network, over and over, I’ve watched independent providers across the country rise to the challenge. When the stakes are high and the political landscape is stacked against them, indies stand their ground and refuse to let anything stop them from putting their patients first.
Independent clinics play an integral role in ensuring everyone has access to the reproductive health care they need to thrive and be healthy and to make the choices that are right for them and their families.
Now is the time we all must show appreciation for abortion providers. Reach out to the clinic in your local community. Volunteer, or support in whatever way is needed. Be an advocate for providers and patients as the threats to abortion access escalate.
Nikki Madsen is the executive director of Abortion Care Network, which is a national organization that supports independent, community-based abortion providers. Independent abortion providers care for the majority of people seeking abortion in the U.S., often serving folks with the fewest resources in some of the most hostile regions in the country, including the lead plaintiff in the June Medical case.