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Abortion providers and support networks carry on in Virginia

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Whole Woman's Health
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EDIT: A previous version of this story incorrectly associated the Charlottesville Planned Parenthood with the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood. It is actually an affiliate with the Planned Parenthood South Atlantic group.

In the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, WMRA's Randi B. Hagi checked in with abortion providers and support networks in the area.

While other states, poised with trigger bans or anti-abortion legislation from the pre-Roe era, have shut down abortions since the Supreme Court's decision, abortion remains legal in Virginia through the second trimester; and in the third trimester only if the patient's life or health is endangered.

TANNIS FULLER: Work has been normal this week.

Tannis Fuller is the executive director of the Blue Ridge Abortion Fund, which helps Virginia residents and those traveling to Virginia pay for abortions and 'practical support,' such as transportation or lodging.

FULLER: One of the things that abortion funds do – we did it last week and we'll do it next week and we did it this week too – is get up every morning and make sure people get to their abortions. And so that has not changed for us here in Virginia.

There are two abortion clinics in our broadcasting region, both located in Charlottesville. One is a Planned Parenthood. The other is a Whole Woman's Health, which operates clinics in Texas, Maryland, Minnesota, Indiana, and Virginia.

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Amy Hagstrom Miller, the founder, president, and CEO of Whole Woman's Health, speaking in a virtual press conference on June 24th.

AMY HAGSTROM MILLER: The reversing of Roe is not abstract for us at all. Today, we had to call hundreds of our patients in Texas and cancel their appointments.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of the company, gave a press conference on June 24th following the Supreme Court's decision.

MILLER: Virginia is a haven state that has rolled back almost every restriction on abortion over the last five years … we have been welcoming people from Texas into Virginia for the last few months to get the care they've been denied in Texas, and we expect people to look to Virginia from other states where abortion has now been banned. West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, et cetera.

According to a Washington Post article updated on Tuesday afternoon, the abortion bans closest to us have gone into effect in Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, although the LEO Weekly reported that a Louisville judge has granted a temporary restraining order against Kentucky's abortion ban, allowing abortions to restart there, for now.

So it's reasonable to expect that some residents of those states will end up traveling to Virginia for the procedure, although Fuller said they haven't yet seen that influx at the fund. Court battles like Kentucky's have created a constantly shifting landscape in the last week and a half.

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Tannis Fuller
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Tannis Fuller directs the Blue Ridge Abortion Fund, which is based in Charlottesville.

FULLER: So I think we're going to see a lot of quickly moving pieces for a while. I anticipate as time goes by, we will start to see those travelers from out of state … And I also think, as a patient, if I was a patient who had an abortion scheduled in, say, Louisiana, on Friday afternoon, and I got a call from my clinic that I couldn't come to my appointment … I think I would probably need some time to process that, and so I'm not sure that my immediate next move would be, "how can I travel to Virginia?"

Also available in Virginia – abortion pills that you can get mailed to your home.

FULLER: The federal government lifted restrictions on prescribing medication abortion at the beginning of the pandemic … previously, medication abortion had needed to be – you needed to watch the patient take the medication, and you needed to dispense it in person. … and Virginia has no prohibition on medication abortion being delivered in the mail, as a lot of other states do. So telemedicine abortion is, right now, very available in Virginia.

For more information on medication abortion, Fuller recommended people visit plancpills.org or ineedana.com.

As for the future of abortion in the Commonwealth, Governor Glenn Younkin hopes to ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, although there would likely have to be some turnover in the state legislature for that to pass – Democrats currently have the majority in the state Senate, and a 20-week ban that was proposed during this year's General Assembly session never made it out of committee in the House.

As Fuller puts it, the fight for abortion access is a long-term one.

FULLER: I think there's probably a lot of grief that people are processing – this acknowledgement or this recognition that we have a Supreme Court that really doesn't care … But I also think that this is a long game. We've been here before. States have navigated terrible administrations. States have navigated the reduction of care. You know, there are a handful of states that exist currently with one abortion provider. This didn't break overnight, and it won't get fixed overnight, but it will be fixed.

In Virginia, whether or not things change may depend on the next election for state Senate seats in 2023, which could shift control of the state government entirely into Republican hands.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.