Handling business 'in the midst of our pain': What it's like working for an abortion provider right now
When Kawanna Shannon saw the news Friday morning that the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, ending 50 years of federal abortion rights, the first thing she felt was anger. Then came immense sadness.
Shannon is the director of patient access with the Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, which encompasses several health centers including, until last week, the last abortion provider in the state of Missouri. She was in her office across the river in Fairview Heights, Illinois, when the Supreme Court ruled to overturn the constitutional right to abortion. With states left to decide their own rules around access, Missouri became one of the first to enact its so-called trigger law to ban the procedure in nearly all cases.
Shannon first thought of the patients "that will be harmed by this decision" and may "take unsafe routes" to obtain an abortion, she tells CNBC Make It. "It saddened me immediately."
Abortion providers have spent years preparing for the overturn of Roe, but the actual decision plunged medical and support staff into states of shock, devastation, and resolve to help vulnerable patients.
Having worked with patients in Missouri, which has restricted access for years, "you always felt like you knew what a post-Roe world was like," she says.
'We quickly got it together and started helping patients'
After taking a moment to herself Friday morning, Shannon and her team got to work.
"We had to have a business meeting in the midst of our pain," Shannon says. "But we quickly got it together and started helping patients."
While the St. Louis abortion clinic closed last week, Shannon says the regional call center in Illinois is open and "doing all logistical needs" right now, including helping patients in the region "with planes, trains and bus tickets, and connecting them with other abortion funds for gas money and hotel rooms."
More than 14,000 patients from the Midwest and the South are expected to seek care in states like Illinois, said Dr. Colleen McNicholas, a chief medical officer with Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, during a press conference Friday.
Planned Parenthood's Fairview Heights location has already seen a more than 100% increase in patients from outside both Missouri and Illinois in recent months. Patients have flooded in to the southern Illinois clinic following Texas' abortion ban in September and additional state-level restrictions across the country since.
Nearly all people contacting her office these days are from states where abortions became illegal last week, Shannon says.
"There are a lot of unknowns" and confusion for patients who live in states with immediate or expected restrictions, Shannon says. "We're trying to give them some reassurance that abortion is still legal in some states, and that we are here and willing to get them to a place where it is legal."
In addition to patients, Shannon worries for the wellbeing of her staff. She makes sure to check in with her team and encourage breaks, even if it's just a reminder to eat lunch. "It can get a little weary, and people can be doubtful," she says. "But they believe in the mission."
Temporary blocks on state abortion bans provide 'relief' but are 'very confusing for patients'
In Louisiana, a trigger law banning abortions went into effect Friday. On Monday, a state judge moved to temporarily block the ban until July 8. Abortion procedures are resuming at the state's three abortion providers in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Shreveport.
The temporary block comes with both "relief" but also "an understanding there's a lot of work to do," says Amy Irvin, the media spokesperson for the Women's Health Care Center in New Orleans and Delta Clinic in Baton Rouge.
We're trying to give them some reassurance that abortion is still legal in some states, and that we are here and willing to get them to a place where it is legal.Kawanna Shannondirector of patient access, Planned Parenthood, St. Louis
In the next two weeks, administrators must work quickly to reach patients, schedule them for mandatory counseling with a 72-hour waiting period, book procedure appointments, and even call medical staff to confirm they're able to be present at the clinic.
"It's an emotional roller coaster" and "very harrowing for staff, but also very confusing for patients," Irvin says.
Additionally, "the administrators of these closings are very aware of the pressure and stress of the last few days on their staff," Irvin says, and it's "uncertain" whether clinics will remain open after July 8.
Prior to the Friday decision, Irvin says providers in New Orleans and Baton Rouge were already seeing patients travel hundreds of miles from out-of-state. If Louisiana clinics shutter again, some of the closest options will be in Illinois, Colorado and New Mexico.
On Thursday, a trigger ban outlawing abortions was blocked in Florida. On Monday, Utah's trigger ban was blocked as well. Similar bans are also being challenged in Arizona, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi and Texas.
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