Whole Woman’s Health is one of the nation’s largest independent abortion providers, and the location of its Minnesota clinic is no accident.
“Some patients may fly, some may prefer to drive. So being near the highways that we are and the airport in Bloomington gives patients the most options available,” said Sharon Lau, Midwest advocacy director for Whole Woman’s Health Alliance.
Lau says the clinic is bracing for an influx of patients from states with more restrictive abortion laws than Minnesota after the Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade and enabled states to determine abortion access.
Planned Parenthood of Minnesota tells CNN that on Monday, the first business day after the Supreme Court decision, it received its highest call volume ever — an increase of 50% — with many of the calls coming from out-of-state.
“We expect to see a minimum of 10 to 25% more people coming, seeking abortion,” said Sarah Stoesz, the regional CEO of Planned Parenthood.
Minnesota is surrounded by states with some level of abortion restrictions. That includes South Dakota, which has an outright ban on abortion with “very limited exceptions,” according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that tracks abortion policy and supports abortion access.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul area sits in a strategic location on Interstate 35, which connects the region with Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas — all with some of the most restrictive laws in the nation. (A Texas court put a temporary restraining order on enforcement of state law until at least July 12.)
“I don’t know if we’re going to be able to handle the increase,” Stoesz said. “There is already a healthcare worker shortage and we’ve been struggling with that since the beginning of the pandemic. That hasn’t gone away.”
Stoesz expects an increase in the use of the abortion pill as an initial solution, “because appointments are going to be difficult to get,” she said.
‘I never regretted getting that abortion’
Liz Van Heel understands the need for abortion for fragile medical situations. She says that six years ago she and her husband received a devastating diagnosis on the day of an 18-week ultrasound appointment. Their unborn child had a neural tube defect, meaning the baby’s brain would never fully form.
“It was Friday the 13th. That’s when my doctor told me the news, that this baby was incompatible with life. I felt like I lost my baby right then,” Van Heel said. “That diagnosis meant that I would either miscarry at any time or the moments after I gave birth the baby would die.”
Van Heel decided the best option for her mental health, and the only way to preserve attempting another pregnancy, would be abortion. She says the grief was intense.
“I knew that continuing to carry a baby that was not compatible with life, was not going to be good for my mental health or my emotional health,” she told CNN. “I’ve never regretted getting that abortion. And, in many ways I think of that abortion as the pathway that got me to my second son. Because if I would have had to carry that baby that was incompatible with life, the damage it would have done to me psychologically, I don’t know whether I would have done it again.”
Now, as she recalls the doctors who connected her to Planned Parenthood, Van Heel worries about the women who utilize abortion for fragile medical situations, not because they don’t want the child. She knows the desperate feeling some mothers will go through and fears they will have a tougher time getting an abortion.
“That is worrisome. Having gone through this, that period between deciding you want an abortion and then actually having an abortion. It feels so long,” she said. “I would be honored to be a resource for anyone that needs it.”
Stoesz said Planned Parenthood is hearing from people like Van Heel by offering resources to people who don’t have the ability to travel out of state.
“Someone reached out to me who owns a small plane, and she wants to organize a lot of her friends and others around the country who also have small planes and can land in rural parts of the country and can safely transport women to larger urban centers,” she said. “That’s an example of the sort of help that people across our country are now willing to give to women. I feel hopeful because over the weekend we had more than 1,000 people reach out to us.”