Last week, my staff and I watched alongside the rest of the nation as the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would consider a case challenging Mississippi’s ban on abortion starting at 15 weeks of pregnancy. This news left us feeling scared about the future of abortion access and thinking about how a bad decision could be devastating for patients like ours, for whom access to abortion is not only life-affirming, but often life-saving.
Unfortunately, these fears are not new for us here in Arkansas, where I serve as clinical director of one of the last two clinics standing in the state. We are used to keeping our chins up and fighting for the rights of our patients in the face of unrelenting attacks on our ability to provide, and our patients’ ability to access, abortion. And that is exactly what we will do when we go to court to fight Arkansas’s abortion ban today.
For nearly a decade, anti-abortion politicians in Arkansas have engaged in a targeted campaign against abortion, aimed at shutting our clinic’s doors and making it difficult, if not impossible, for our patients to access the vital reproductive health care they seek. Among other things, they’ve tried to ban abortion at particular points in pregnancy, ban abortion based on our patients’ reasons for seeking care, and imposed requirements that clinics must satisfy in order to keep our doors open, designed to be too burdensome to meet.
Rather than increase safety, these restrictions put pregnant people across Arkansas in danger by making it more difficult for patients to access abortion, and more difficult for us to provide this care. For example, Arkansas law currently requires that all abortion patients receive certain state mandated information from us in person and then wait a designated period of time before obtaining an abortion.
Over the past few years, the legislature has steadily increased this mandatory waiting period from 24, to 48, and now to 72 hours. So many of our patients already have to travel long distances, arrange time off work and/or child care, and find transportation in order to get to our clinic. Because they have to receive the state mandated information in person, and then wait 72-hours before getting their abortion, they have to do all these things twice — for no medical reason. This can be simply insurmountable for some patients, especially those who are poor or low-income, as many of our patients are.
We’ve gotten used to engaging in what feels like a constant struggle against the state’s ever-increasing set of medically unnecessary restrictions. But this year felt different. Anti-abortion legislators pushed through such a high volume of bills aimed at restricting abortion access, and the rate at which they were introduced and passed was faster than in years prior. It also seemed impossible to combat these restrictions: At times, I truly felt helpless. By the end of this whirlwind 2021 session, Arkansas had passed 20 abortion restrictions — positioning the state to tie Louisiana’s record from 1978 for most abortion restrictions passed in a single year.
Among these 20 is the near-total abortion ban that Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law in March, which we’re challenging on behalf of our patients today. This ban would prohibit abortion in nearly every case, and impose criminal penalties on our doctors for providing abortion care.
The day Gov. Hutchinson signed it into law, patients immediately began calling the clinic in a panic to see if they could keep their appointments, and our staff had family members calling them to see if they still had jobs. Amidst this incredible stress, we tried to make clear that abortion is still legal in Arkansas, that our clinic doors are still open, and that we would continue to fight to keep them open.
In spite of these challenges, I remain incredibly proud of the work we do at the clinic, and cannot imagine not providing this care. Many staff members have been here for 10 to 15 years or more; it is their life’s work. We are dedicated, compassionate, and have an amazing group of volunteers that do critical community outreach. Our patients depend on us for the care they need, and we are thankful for the physicians and staff who work tirelessly to make sure patients receive that care.
Abortion is essential health care, and there are still compassionate people in Arkansas willing to provide it, even as it gets more difficult with each attack and limitation. With our legal team, we will do everything we can to make sure the abortion care we provide remains accessible to anyone in Arkansas who needs it.