CASPER, Wyo. – A modest, tan building sandwiched between a gas station and a small apartment house near the center of this western city has become an unexpected centerpiece of America’s abortion controversy, just weeks before the Wyoming method was outlawed.
Inside, a non-profit organization is renovating a clinic that, in early June, will be the only one in Wyoming to offer a systematic abortion. The Caspar Clinic would be the closest option for people describing the founders of a non-profit organization as a “abortion desert” that stretches as far as West Nebraska and South Dakota.
Outside, last Thursday, more than 100 abortion protesters gathered on the sidewalk of a busy five-lane road to pray. A small group of voice abortion rights lawyers have gathered around.
Defendants meet weekly as the clinic continues to open despite an impending US Supreme Court ruling awaiting constitutional protection for the constitutional right to abortion granted by the 1973 landmark case. Roy v. Wade. A “trigger law” recently passed in Wyoming will take effect a few days after such a ruling, banning most abortions in the state.
Adolescents, young adults, parents of young children, and the elderly silently hold signs attached to Bible verses or slogans, such as “Abortion harms women.”
One man walked through the crowd with anti-religious slogans, while a group of teenagers took a less confrontational approach to the warning message with the slogan “My body, my choice”.
Several drivers passing by shouted in support of the anti-abortion group or shouted obscenely, “This is my body!”
Opposition groups called for a halt to the protests, but they seemed to agree on one thing: they were surprised that a clinic was being opened in Wyoming, an irresistible Republican state where 70% of voters supported Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. The highest percentage.
“I never thought I’d see an abortion clinic come to Wyoming, let alone Caspar, because it’s more conservative,” Robin Holmes, 39, said at the time.
Holmes wore a custom T-shirt and held a homemade poster, both saying “Unborn Lives Matter.” She said her daughter became pregnant as a teenager but decided against abortion and is now raising the child.
Ricky Hayes, who supports the new clinic, found a piece of cardboard on the way to his watch and said, “Mind your own business!” Hold it after writing.
“I haven’t thought in a million years that we, at Caspar, would ever get one. We’re in Wyoming, “said Hayes, a 21-year-old coffee shop manager.
The idea to open a clinic in Caspar came from Wyoming worker Christine Lichenfelds. She shares her advice with Julie Burkhardt, a Colorado resident and veteran of the national abortion rights movement.
The only other Wyoming clinic offering abortion is a five-hour drive west of Jackson, Caspar and near the Idaho border. It only offers a drug abortion up to 10 weeks of pregnancy.
“I just thought, ‘God, why can’t we get something on Caspar?’ It’s the perfect location, almost in the center, ”Lichtenfels said.
Burkhart agreed and established the nonprofit Wellspring Health Access in May 2021 and planned other projects aimed at opening the clinic and expanding access to abortion. Lichtenfels is an attorney and board member of the Chelsea Fund, a nonprofit that provides financial support for abortion to Wyoming residents. Taking a day or more to go to an appointment creates a logistical and financial burden for many people, he said.
“You have a job, you probably have kids, so you have to look after the kids,” Lichtenfelds said. “Maybe you don’t have a great car, maybe you don’t have a car. Or maybe the road is closed. “
Caspar, with a population of about 59,000, is a three- or four-hour drive north or south of the nearest clinic – one in Billings, Montana and the other in Fort Collins, Colorado. It is relatively close to the territories of neighboring states without abortion services.
Some people in West South Dakota now drive five hours to abortion clinics in Montana or Colorado. If they are in South Dakota, they must travel four hours to Sioux Falls, where they face a three-day waiting period.
When organizers began planning the clinic, Wyoming had fewer abortions than other Republican-controlled states.
Wimming allows abortion up to efficacy (approximately 24 weeks) and there are no restrictions on telemedicine abortion. It has no mandatory waiting time, doctors do not need to read patient specific information and patients do not need to see ultrasound. Nevertheless, the state was largely deprived of abortion services.
Then, in March, Wyoming became the 13th state to pass a “trigger law.” The law would make abortion illegal after five days Rowe vs. Wade With the exception of pregnancies involving rape, incest or risking the life of the mother, they are reversed.
Books in Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah have similar laws. Policy observers hope lawmakers in Montana and Nebraska will also try to ban abortion. That means many people in the region will have to drive or fly to another state for abortion services Rowe vs. Wade Turns upside down
Whatever the US Supreme Court’s decision, there will be a public debate in Wyoming, both sides say.
Burkhardt said legal challenges could slow Wimming’s trigger law into effect. Even if the state prohibits abortion, she hopes the clinic will remain open to its other services, such as gynecology, testing for sexually transmitted infections, family planning, and gender-confirmed care for LGBTQ + patients.
He hopes that Wellspring Health Access will explore ways to help people in neighboring states where abortion is prohibited, including opening clinics near state borders or bringing mobile clinics or telemedicine services to those areas.
Burkhardt said it would be possible to bring mobile clinics to states with abortion bans, screen them, prepare them and enroll people for out-of-state appointments.
Local anti-abortion activists say banning abortion will not end their campaign. Bob Brechtel is a former Republican state legislator who helps organize weekly prayer vigils outside the Caspar Clinic.
“The rule of law is important, but more importantly, we have people who recognize and understand our purpose for protecting human life,” he said.
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