Opening of a new Maryland clinic in Roe’s “abortion desert”.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A new abortion provider is opening this year in Democratic-controlled Maryland — just across the street from deeply conservative West Virginia, where the state legislature recently passed a near-total ban on abortion.

The Maryland Women’s Health Center in Cumberland, about five miles from West Virginia, will open its doors in June — a year after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned federal protections on abortion — to offer abortions to patients across the central Appalachia region, clinic operators say , it is an “abortion desert”.

“Hours in any direction, there are no other abortion providers here — it’s in the middle of an absolute abortion desert, and that’s by design,” said Katie Quiñonez, executive director of the Charleston-based West Virginia Women’s Health Center. the state’s lonely abortion clinic until it was forced to halt procedures after lawmakers passed a ban with narrow exemptions in September.

Independent abortion clinics provide the majority of abortions in the United States — particularly for low-income people living in isolated, rural states that are hostile to access to abortion. Clinics are more likely to offer post-first-trimester abortions and offer both surgical and medical abortion options, according to the Abortion Care Network, the national association for independent abortion providers.

Dozens of independent clinics across the country have had to close their doors since the US Supreme Court Roe v. Wade fell, and 14 states have no abortion clinics at all.

At least 66 clinics in 15 states have stopped offering abortions since the decision, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that campaigns for abortion rights. The number of clinics offering abortions in those 15 states fell from 79 last October to 13, the remaining clinics in Georgia.

When West Virginia lawmakers passed their sweeping abortion ban, several members of the Republican majority said they hoped it would force the West Virginia Women’s Health Center to close. Republican Senator Robert Karnes said he believes closing the center “will save a lot of babies.” Brandon Steele, a Republican in the state House of Representatives, called access to abortion “a scar” and “a curse” that lawmakers “needed to have.” remove from this country.”

Patients in West Virginia seeking an abortion are now required to take time off work, travel hundreds of miles, and pay for lodging and other accommodations, “anything to get basic health care,” Quiñonez said.

“Our communities deserve better — people should have access to abortion treatments without delay or barriers,” she said.

The Maryland Women’s Health Center provides abortion services through the second trimester and accepts Maryland Medicaid, which covers abortions. It will also provide annual screening, contraception, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and breast and cervical cancer screening.

Although abortions cannot be performed there, the West Virginia clinic is still open and offers other reproductive health care and hard-to-find services like gender-affirming hormone therapy. But Quiñonez said they still get calls from anxious patients who don’t know where to go for an abortion. Until the Maryland clinic opens and is ready to take referrals, its employees have no choice but to direct callers to a website to find out-of-state services.

As of January 2022, the clinic’s abortion fund has distributed $150,000 to more than 800 people, mostly West Virginia residents.

Maryland has a Democratic governor and a Democrat-controlled General Assembly committed to maintaining access to abortion. Abortion is legal in Maryland up to about 24 weeks gestation.

Cumberland’s closest independent reproductive health clinic, which offers abortion and gender-affirming hormone therapy, is a Planned Parenthood in Frederick, 90 miles away. This facility only offers medical abortions.

A nearby clinic in Hagerstown is open for abortions at set times a few times a month. It only offers first-trimester abortions and doesn’t accept Maryland Medicaid — a barrier to low-income patients, Quiñonez said. Otherwise, patients must travel more than 100 miles (161 kilometers) to Pittsburgh or even further to Baltimore or Washington, DC

Renovations at the Cumberland Clinic began last week – crews installed new medical equipment and signage, did a thorough cleaning, applied fresh paint, replaced floors and patched drywall.

The cost of the facility, licensing and renovations is approximately $1.17 million. First-year operating costs — including labor costs and building operations — are estimated at approximately $763,000. Both the West Virginia and Maryland clinics are funded by donations, foundations and organizations to help expand access to abortion in the United States

The Maryland Women’s Health Center will have its own finances and eventually a state board of directors. The directors of the West Virginia Women’s Health Center will serve as the board while the organization recruits new, locally based members.

“People have always needed abortions — since the beginning of time,” Quiñonez said. “And they will always need abortions until the end of time. We will continue to fight to ensure that every patient gets the care they need.”


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