Arielle Zionts / KHN
The humble, black building between a gas station near downtown Casper, Wy.
Inside, a nonprofit is renovating the space, starting in June, which would be the only one that will provide procedural abortions in Wyoming. The Casper Clinic would also become the closest choice for people described by nonprofit creators as “abortion deserts,” extending to western Nebraska and South Dakota.
Outside last Thursday, more than 100 abortion opponents gathered for a prayer vigil on the sidewalk of a busy five-lane street. A smaller group of abortion rights advocates gathered around.
Protest groups meet weekly as the work of opening the clinic continues, despite the immediate decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which hopes to repeal the constitutional protections of the 1973 abortion rights. Roe v. Wade. Wyoming’s recently enacted “trigger law” ruling will come into force a few days after that, banning most abortions in the state.
Teenagers, young adults, parents of young children, and the elderly kept silent posters adorned with Bible verses or slogans, such as “Abortion Hurt Women” at the last vigil.
Nearby, a group of teenagers were shouting “My body, my choice.” Several drivers passing by sounded the horn in support of the anti-abortion group or shouted and shouted, “It’s my body!”
Opposition groups called for an end to the protests, but said they were in favor of opening a clinic in Wyoming, a Republican state where 70 percent of voters voted for Donald Trump in 2020. presidential election – the highest percentage of any state.
“I never thought I’d see an abortion clinic coming to Wyoming, much less Casper, because he’s more conservative,” Robin Holmes, 39, said during the vigil.
Holmes wore a custom T-shirt and a home sign, both of which read “Unborn Lives Matter.” She said her daughter became pregnant in her teens, but she didn’t decide to have an abortion and now the baby is growing.
Rikki Hayes, who supports the new clinic, found a piece of cardboard on the way to the wake and held on to “Your Accounts!” after writing. “I didn’t think we, Casper, would ever get there in a million years. We’re in Wyoming,” said Hayes, a 21-year-old coffee shop manager.
Arielle Zionts / KHN
The idea to open a Casper clinic came from Wyoming activist Christine Lichtenfels. She shared her suggestion with Julie Burkhart, a Colorado resident and veteran of the national abortion rights movement
The only other abortion clinic in Wyoming is in Jackson, a five-hour drive west of Casper and near the Idaho border. It only offers medication abortions up to 10 weeks of pregnancy.
“I thought, ‘God, why can’t we get something in Casper?’ It’s a great location, pretty central, ”Lichtenfels said.
Burkhart agreed to set up Wellspring Health Access in May 2021 and plan to open other clinics to expand access and open abortion projects. Lichtenfels is a lawyer and board member of Chelsea’s Fund, a nonprofit that provides financial assistance to Wyoming residents who want to have an abortion. For many people, taking a day or more to travel to an appointment creates a lot of logistical and financial burden.
“You have a job, maybe you have kids, so you have to find childcare,” Lichtenfels said. “Maybe you don’t have a big car, maybe you don’t have a car. Or maybe the roads are closed.”
Casper, with a population of about 59,000, is a three- or four-hour drive from the nearest clinics north or south: one in Billings, Montana, and another in Fort Collins, Colorado. It is also relatively close to the regions of the surrounding states without abortion services.
Some people in western South Dakota are now seeking an abortion drive for five hours to a clinic in Montana or Colorado. If they stay in South Dakota, they will have to travel four hours to Sioux Falls, where they will face a three-day wait. When organizers began planning the clinic, Wyoming had fewer restrictions on abortion than many other Republican-controlled states.
Wyoming supports abortion until viability (about 24 weeks) and has not banned telemedicine abortions. It does not require a mandatory waiting period, does not require doctors to read accurate information to patients, and does not require patients to see an ultrasound. However, the state remained without an abortion service.
Then, in March, Wyoming became the 13th state to pass a “trigger law.” The law would outlaw abortions five days later Roe v. Wade it is reversed, with few exceptions, during pregnancies that involve rape, incest, or risk to the mother’s life.
Similar laws are found in the books of Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Utah. Political observers expect Montana and Nebraska lawmakers to also comply with the abortion ban. This means that many women and other pregnant women who want to have an abortion in this region would have to fly to other countries or drive to other states. Roe v. Wade it flips.
Whatever the U.S. Supreme Court decides, both sides say the public debate will continue in Wyoming.
Burkhart said legal challenges could slow the Wyoming start-up law. Although the state outlaws abortion, it expects the clinic to remain open to offer its other services such as gynecology, sexually transmitted infection testing, family planning, and gender confirmation care for LGBTQ + patients.
Wellspring Health Access also hopes to explore ways to help people in abortion states find services in neighboring states, including opening clinics near state borders or bringing mobile clinics or telemedicine services to those areas.
Burkhart said it is also possible to bring mobile clinics to states that have a ban on abortion to monitor, prepare and enroll people for out-of-state appointments.
Local anti-abortion activists say that although Wyoming has banned abortion, their campaign will not end. Bob Brechtel is a former Republican state lawmaker who helps organize a weekly prayer vigil outside the Casper Clinic.
“The rule of law is important, but more importantly, we have people who support and understand our goal of defending human life at every stage,” he said.
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. The editor program is an independent agent Kaiser Family Foundation.