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There is a new dividing line between Kansas and Oklahoma, in the heart of the United States. On one side of the border, abortion is allowed, and there is a way out for women with unwanted pregnancies. On the other hand, abortion is now illegal, and there is uncertainty and confusion. The state line constitutes a new front in the struggle for abortion rights.
“We’ve had patients here in the last few weeks from Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri and Louisiana, as well as people from Kansas itself of course,” said Zach Gingrich of the abortion clinic that’s still open in Wichita, Kansas. “Some have been in the car for more than twelve hours.” Wichita now serves a giant piece of America. It’s an impossible job.
Three hours south, in Oklahoma City, Anna Arts first heard confusion on her phone. “We have a hotline for women in Oklahoma to call now that abortion is prohibited here,” she says. “Most conversations begin with a question of what is still possible.” Anna has an answer, even though the space to move is rapidly shrinking.
Since the Supreme Court struck down the right to abortion nationwide on June 24, 16 US states have banned all or part of that right. In nine other states, politicians or courts have yet to decide, but abortion is also likely to become illegal. A strict law has already been passed in Oklahoma, in Kansas, the state parliament will consider it in September.
With the push of a button, the door opens to a large dispensary. Curtains on the left with treatment areas, ultrasound machines and screens behind. To the right is a long row of chairs in which patients can relax. “We’re working hard right now,” says Zack. “But we can’t help everyone who needs it.” Wait times at the clinic increased to more than three weeks.
“To get a treatment that benefits a lot is speed,” says Zack. The sooner the abortion is performed, the lower the medical risks. and the potential for emotional damage. “But with new laws taking effect all around us, Wichita is now the closest abortion provider to 7.7 million people. It’s crazy.”
The weeks since June 24 have been weeks of immense stress for all of the clinic’s staff. “It’s an overwhelming feeling,” says Zack. “You know you can help people, but you can’t. We have all the skills and knowledge at home, but now everyone around us is being told: ‘It’s no longer allowed, it’s illegal’.”
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Anna sits and checks her phone. “We also advise women to contact the clinic in Wichita,” she says. As long as appointments can still be scheduled there, this is Oklahoma City’s shortest route to getting a doctor’s advice. “Otherwise we refer them to organizations that can mail the abortion pills.” This is done without supervision, but according to doctors, it is a safe method up to ten weeks of pregnancy.
Anna explains that getting the pill by mail is still possible in states like Oklahoma, where abortion is now a crime. “Because the Postal Service is federal, it’s a national agency. That means Oklahoma can’t check what’s in the envelope.” So, along with the road to neighboring Kansas, there are still opportunities for women in Oklahoma.
What about Roe vs. Wade? And why has abortion been a hot topic in the United States for years? Reporter Marieki de Vries explains:
Why has abortion been discussed in the United States for years
However, the state is also trying to close those roads. By making Anna’s business illegal. “Oklahoma’s new abortion law includes a provision prohibiting ‘collusion,'” Anna says. Exactly what we do with our helpline is being punished now.”
That’s why there is so much tension around the topic of abortion across America. It’s hard, even for journalists, to get to the places where abortion providers work. Zack’s clinic in Wichita, for example, was initially reluctant to visit. In addition to the huge increase in the number of patients, there is a risk of lawsuits. And pressure them to shut the doors themselves.
This lies in Kansas. “Here the law provides for the right to bodily autonomy, but in August there will be a vote to remove that right from the law on abortion,” says Zack. It would mean that the Kansas state parliament could pass a law making abortion illegal. “We know this part of America, and we know Prohibition is coming here as well.”
I need to show my face so that it is fashionable and safe for women to come to us for help.
It is also now very difficult to communicate with volunteers and even doctors. “It’s because everyone is nervous,” Anna also emphasizes. Nobody knows exactly where the limits of the law lie. “There was a case of a woman who had an ectopic pregnancy, which was life-threatening. Her doctor first called a lawyer to make sure he could intervene. People are nervous.”
However, she continues her work, appearing on TV with her face in and making herself heard on social media. Anna says she consciously attracts attention with her helpline and activism. “I need to show my face so that it is fashionable and safe for women to come to us for help.”
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