Independent Abortion Providers Are on the Front Lines in the Assault on Reproductive Rights

As we fight egregious attacks on abortion at the state and federal level, remember to thank the individuals on the frontlines every day, providing radical community-based care for those who need it most.

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Jackson, Miss., on August 17, 2021. The clinic is the only brick-and-mortar abortion provider in the state. (Montinique Monroe / Ms. magazine)

Six states have only one brick-and-mortar abortion clinic left. And four of the six lone statewide providers, including Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Mississippi, are small, independent clinics helping patients access critical abortion care. 

This didn’t happen overnight. Over the last decade alone, abortion clinics have been closing at an alarming rate. Of those closures, the majority have been independent abortion care providers. Not only do these independent clinics have less access to funding and resources, but ideologically-driven, medically unnecessary abortion restrictions make it increasingly hard for many clinics to keep their doors open and provide care. On top of that, independent providers are the most vulnerable to anti-abortion attacks and violence directed at their staff. 

Nineteen years ago on March 10, 1993, Dr. David Gunn, a physician who dedicated his life to providing abortion services in rural communities, was murdered by a white supremacist anti-abortion extremist. On the anniversary of his death, we celebrate Abortion Provider Appreciation Day as a way to honor his life and recognize all the courageous, compassionate people who, despite the growing obstacles, provide abortion care every day.  

This day is an opportunity to spread appreciation and gratitude for the resilient providers who, in order to provide essential care to their communities, have to navigate quickly-changing laws while enduring unrelenting threats, violence, and harassment by anti-abortion extremists. Clinic staff are on the frontlines of the abortion fight and are the people providing critical health care during every step of the process. Despite attacks on abortion access across the country and far fewer resources, these independent providers continue to provide care to their communities when and where no one else will. 

Abortion Provider Appreciation Day is also an important reminder of what is at stake for abortion clinics across the country as a drumbeat of abortion restrictions and bans have made it harder for independent providers to care for people seeking abortions. Abortion opponents have weaponized abortion stigma and misinformation to limit access, and laws like Texas’s abortion ban which allows vigilante extremists to sue anyone who helps someone get an abortion is yet another example of this anti-abortion trend to chip away at abortion access state by state. Now, as the Supreme Court considers Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, and other states are attempting to copy this egregious 6-week ban, it’s imperative that we focus on ensuring clinics are able to care for patients and that every person can get the reproductive health care they need—no matter where they live.

Shannon Brewer, the clinic director at Jackson Women’s Health for the past two decades, urges the public to get vocal in support of abortion rights. “Pro-choice do not mean that you will have an abortion,” she said. “Pro-choice do not mean that. It just means that you have no say-so of what the next person does with their body. That’s all pro-choice means.” (Montinique Monroe / Ms. magazine)

The fact is, the impact of abortion restrictions, bans, and shuttered clinics fall hardest on BIPOC communities as well as, people with disabilities, people in rural areas, young people, immigrants, and those having difficulty making ends meet. And over the last two years, the people and communities disproportionately impacted by abortion restrictions, are the same as those disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Yet, despite this, providers, escorts, and volunteers show up every day and put their own health and safety on the line to ensure people can get the care they need. 

As abortion access is at risk in a number of states and with Roe likely to be overturned this summer, the need to support abortion clinics is amplified. While people in Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and West Virginia are already forced to navigate the challenges that come with having only one clinic in the entire state, these six states, and another 19 stand to lose what little is left of abortion access if Roe is overturned. 

We know that in order to ensure that abortion is accessible for all, we must stand up for the independent clinics and providers who face not only legislative but personal attacks. The right to make your own decision about your health is the most personal choice you can make and without the compassionate care providers offer to their communities, the reality of reproductive health care would look much different than it does right now. Communities need clinics, and independent abortion clinics and their staff need the support of their communities in order to continue providing care in their clinics and fighting abortion restrictions in the courts. 

As we continue to fight back against these egregious attacks at the state and federal level, remember to thank the individuals who are on the frontlines every single day, providing radical community-based care for those who need it most. Meaningful access to abortion care in the United States depends on independent abortion care providers keeping their doors open and continuing to provide quality, patient-centered care. While navigating continued limited funding, rapidly changing laws, threats of violence, as well as a global pandemic, clinic staff adapted and continued showing up in the countries’ most vulnerable and underserved communities. On Abortion Provider Appreciation Day, and every day, we should celebrate these clinics and the individuals behind your abortion care. 

Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether you yourself have had an abortion, or simply stand in solidarity with those who have—to let the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House know: We will not give up the right to safe, legal, accessible abortion.

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Erin Grant is the deputy director of Abortion Care Network and a seasoned reproductive justice advocate.