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South Bend’s only abortion clinic is still open, but could soon close. What can patients do next?

WWH South Bend Sign.JPG
Courtesy Whole Woman's Health Alliance

For now, the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in South Bend is open and operating — but it could soon be forced to close if the state legislature bans the procedure.

In a press call last Friday, Whole Woman’s Health Alliance CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller said the clinic would continue serving patients for as long as it could.

“Right now, today, there is no criminal ban on abortion in Indiana and there is no trigger ban on abortion in Indiana,” she said. “So we are able to still see patients and provide abortions in Indiana.”

How much longer the clinic can keep doing that, though, remains to be seen.

Indiana lawmakers are set to meet in special session July 25 to consider the governor’s inflation relief plan. But they’re also expected to propose restricting abortion rights — that’s after the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade last week cleared the way for individual states to ban abortion.

It’s unclear what exceptions lawmakers might include in that legislation — for rape or incest, for example, or when the life of the pregnant person is at risk.

Whole Woman’s Health Midwest Advocacy Director Sharon Lau said that makes it difficult to predict the future of South Bend’s clinic.

“It really depends on the actual legislation or the law that’s passed, on whether we won’t be able to provide any abortions, whether there will be other services that we will still be able to provide,” she said.

The clinic in South Bend currently provides options counseling, emergency contraception and ultrasounds, as well as medication abortions up to 10 weeks.

Lau said the clinic could potentially continue some of those services if the legislature bans abortion, but it’s too early to say.

“The viability of the clinic would depend on if we can provide enough services in order to be able to stay open, financially,” she said. “And just, you know, have services that enough patients actually need in the community.”

The clinic was also in the process of obtaining a license to provide surgical abortions, but according to a joint stipulation filed by Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, the clinic relinquished its provisional license earlier this month pending the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

The agreement stipulates that Whole Woman’s Health “will not seek a surgical abortion license for, or provide surgical abortions at, its South Bend clinic until at least 45 days from the date of this stipulation.”

So, what happens if Indiana enacts a total ban?

Right now, patients can travel to another state where abortion is legal — though some states have proposed laws to criminalize that as well.

Lau said Whole Woman’s Health is considering expanding operations in the other Midwest states it serves. The alliance provides telemedicine abortion in Illinois, where patients have a virtual consultation and are sent medication in the mail.

“If a patient in Indiana had a family member in Illinois or a P.O. box in Illinois, and we could send it to Illinois and they could get it that way, that’s something that we would be able to do,” Lau said.

Lau said the alliance is also considering a brick-and-mortar clinic in Illinois. The organization’s only other physical clinic in the Midwest is in Minnesota, where Lau said they’re preparing for an influx of patients from across the region.

There are also clinics in Chicago and Michigan that Whole Woman’s Health refers patients to since the clinic in South Bend can’t provide abortions after the first trimester.

Abortion is currently legal in Michigan, but a pre-Roe ban exists in state law that only allows exceptions to preserve the life of the pregnant person.

A judge temporarily halted enforcement of the law last month, but the legal challenges against it haven’t been decided yet. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also recently called for the State Supreme Court to hear her lawsuit against the ban.

Amid all the different rules and regulations, Lau encouraged potential abortion patients to reach out to their local clinic — she said there are funds to help with travel and appointment expenses, and that providers are still committed to providing quality care.

“We and other organizations like us are going to be doing everything that we can to ensure that as many patients as possible get the care that they need,” Lau said.

Contact Gemma at gdicarlo@wvpe.org or follow her on Twitter at @gemma_dicarlo.

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Updated: July 6, 2022 at 1:49 PM EDT
This story has been updated to reflect state lawmakers' new start date for the special session.
Gemma DiCarlo comes to Indiana by way of Athens, Georgia. She graduated from the University of Georgia in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and certificates in New Media and Sustainability. She has radio experience from her time as associate producer of Athens News Matters, the flagship public affairs program at WUGA-FM.