“They can’t even answer the phone quickly enough. The callback period is three days, not even the time to make an appointment. For the clinic to call you back for the abortion, it takes three days.
In the days following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, two of Pennsylvania’s closest neighbors have criminalized abortion and pregnancy. Thanks to a triggering ban in West Virginia that brings state law back to pre-Roe standards, abortion is now completely illegal and anyone who provides abortion services can be jailed for up to 10 years. Challenges to the legislation, which has not been active since 1973 and was first created in the 1800s, are ongoing. But they can take a while.
In Ohio, a ban that makes abortion legal only during the first six weeks of pregnancy has gone into effect within 24 hours of the Supreme Court’s decision, after Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost lifted an injunction on the so-called ‘heartbeat bill’ introduced in 2019.
Without access to abortion in their home states, residents of Ohio and West Virginia travel to western Pennsylvania and even further afield to Philly-area facilities for care. “Western Pennsylvania clinics are currently extremely overwhelmed with the number of calls and appointments they are receiving from Ohio, West Virginia and surrounding states,” says Ash Turner, Member Allentown Women’s Center staff. “We get an overflow because of that.”
Turner discovered deer had been knocked down while checking in a patient at the clinic on Friday, June 24. “Today was absolutely hectic and scary,” says Turner. “It was totally planned, but at the same time, you like to have hope that it couldn’t happen.” Turner is one of 13 staff at the Allentown Clinic, which has performed abortions since 1973 and now offers gender affirmation services and trauma-informed gynecological care. Turner does just about everything one is allowed to do for the clinic: answering calls, preparing patients for appointments, sterilizing equipment between surgeries, and managing social media and coordination efforts. sensitization.
The Allentown Women’s Center typically sees patients who live in the immediate Lehigh Valley area as well as the occasional pregnant woman from Scranton or slightly further west. But this week, most of the people looking to schedule abortions are from Ohio, Turner says.
Usually, the clinic sees a maximum of 30 patients per day. This Thursday, 37 meetings were scheduled. Last Saturday, Allentown Women’s Center staff arrived early and left late to catch up on appointments.
The Allentown Women’s Center remains in close communication with abortion clinics in the western half of the state, which held a conference call earlier this week with a group of providers in Pennsylvania. During the call, clinics in western Pennsylvania requested staff and volunteers from elsewhere in the state in order to handle the influx of calls they are currently receiving from patients.
One of the people on the call was physician Lisa Perriera, chief medical director of the Women’s Centers, which have offices in Cherry Hill, Delaware County, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Hartford. “Western Pennsylvania is completely inundated with patients from West Virginia and Ohio,” Perriera says. “They can’t even answer the phone quickly enough. The reminder time is three days, not even the planning time. For the clinic to call you back for the abortion, it takes three days. Philly Mag repeatedly contacted the Allegheny Reproductive Health Center for comment, but never called or received a voicemail response.
In addition to overseeing medical operations at women’s centers, Perriera regularly offers abortions at clinics in Philadelphia and Cherry Hill. On Tuesday, while working at Cherry Hill, she said, she cared for a patient from Ohio.
“Because we’re further away from Ohio and West Virginia, we’re normally busy, but we’re thinking about ways to expand our access so we can see more people,” she explains. Perriera’s expansion initiative requires the help of anyone with medical training, including New Jersey nurse practitioners and midwives who are authorized by state mandate to offer medical abortions and abortions first trimester surgery. (In Pennsylvania, only doctors can prescribe drugs or perform abortions of any kind). The clinics managed by Perriera have approximately 60 to 80 appointment slots per day.
Travel costs are a major hurdle for out-of-state patients who come to Pennsylvania or New Jersey for abortions, Perriera says. Pennsylvania law requires a person seeking an abortion to see a doctor 24 hours before a procedure, even for a medical abortion using mifepristone, an FDA-approved pill. Follow-ups are often recommended a few days after the procedure to ensure the patient does not need further care. “It’s time off from work, and who’s going to babysit?” she says. “It makes it difficult for them to join us. But if we can help them or if they can reach us, we want to be able to see them.
Perriera says she never wants people to make a choice about how to have an abortion based on how much money they have. (Medical abortions in Pennsylvania cost around $500, and subsequent surgeries can cost $2,200, depending on the term of the pregnancy.) To help offset the financial burden, Women’s Clinics in Cherry Hill and Philadelphia currently receive funding from the Justice Fund through the National Abortion Fund as well as through the Abortion Liberation Fund in Philadelphia.
The increase in out-of-state patients at Philly-area clinics indicates that abortion won’t go away just because it becomes illegal. “It just points to the fact that people are still going to seek abortion care,” Perriera says. “This decision is so short-sighted. And that’s not what most Americans want.
Perriera is clear with her patients that future abortion care in Pennsylvania depends in part on the outcome of November’s gubernatorial election: “Today, while caring for patients in Philadelphia and gave their abortion pills, I said, “Look, you have to vote. You need to understand that if you don’t vote for the Democratic candidates in November, abortion will no longer be available to you.