CASPER, Wyo ( Associated Press) — When organizers settled on a summer opening for a new women’s health clinic in Wyoming earlier this year, they were feeling excited about their plans, even though they knew they had to go through it. The only clinic of its kind will face opposition. Offer abortion in the state.
There were expected protests and disturbing messages. Things got more tense after a leaked draft of a US Supreme Court ruling that, if finalized, would likely make abortion illegal in Wyoming and half the states.
Then last week, his building was damaged by a fire that police believe was set intentionally.
None of this has derailed plans to open the clinic—a rarity in heavily Republican parts of the United States where most abortion providers are currently fighting just to stay in business, if not to expand services. Leave it alone.
“We can’t be intimidated into submissions,” said Julie Burkhart, the clinic’s founder, as she watched across the street as Casper police and firefighters investigated the fire.
For years, Wyoming prided itself on live-and-let-live Western conservatism, which took a hands-on approach to setting social policy in government, including abortion. Although it is changing.
In March, Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, signed a bill that would include Wyoming among states that would outlaw abortion, with the Supreme Court overturning a 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that ruled abortion. made legal across the country. The only exception would be in the event of rape or incest, to save the life of the mother or to protect the mother from serious, non-mental health problems.
Gordon, who is seeking re-election this year, has not made abortion and other culture war issues a feature of his campaigns or time in office. But recent changes of right by both the Supreme Court and the state legislature have turned abortion into an issue in Wyoming.
Planned Clinic stands in strict opposition to that trend.
Its supporters include Casper resident Rita Little Walker, who recently spoke at a rally in support of the clinic. In an interview, Little Walker described herself as pro-life until two years ago, when doctors said that fetal heart and chromosomal abnormalities could cause her miscarriage, prompting her to abort five months into the pregnancy. .
If she couldn’t get an abortion at a Colorado hospital, Little Walker said she could face a traumatic abortion at home.
Little Walker said, “Not all aborted babies are unwanted.” “It should be available to people when they need it, even if they want to have their own child and will have to make the most difficult decision any parent could possibly make.”
His opinion is probably not the majority view in Casper, a working class of 58,000 people, the second largest city in Wyoming after the capital Cheyenne.
Known as the “Oil City”, Casper has a long history as a center for oil drilling and animal husbandry, with recent activity in uranium mining and wind power. The city is spread at the base of Mount Casper, dominated by a 180-foot (54-m) concrete summit built in the 1960s.
After the clinic caught fire, Rev Leslie Key of the local Unitarian Universalist Church, a minister and clinic supporter, called for tolerance by all.
“It all fuels the flames of division and fear and helplessness and the feeling that things are spiraling out of control,” Key said. “Someone has to step up and call for peace and love and peace. It comes from the human heart.”
No one was injured in the fire, which left the plaster house being renovated for the clinic with broken windows and smoke damage. Officials are probing whether the fire was linked to someone who was seen running away from the building carrying cans and bags of gas.
After surveying the damage, Burkhart said he expects a delay of “at least several weeks” to the already planned opening in mid-June.
Burkhart has previously faced tough odds against opening abortion clinics.
He worked closely with Dr. George Tiller, a Wichita, Kansas, abortion physician who was murdered in the church in 2009. Four years after his murder, Burkhart helped reopen Tiller’s clinic.
The Wichita Clinic, as planned in Casper, enabled women to have abortions without having to travel hundreds of miles to other cities and states.
Colorado, which codified abortion rights into state law In April, abortion has long been the primary destination for many Wyoming women.
“Colorado has been the saving grace for everyone,” said one Casper woman who had a miscarriage in Boulder when she was a 17-year-old in foster care in a small Wyoming town in 1989.
She declined, citing concerns for her safety and employment prospects, shared by her daughter, a Casper woman, who, 20 years later, at 21, needed her own abortion. Went to Colorado to get medicines.
While abortions continue to persist in Wyoming — there were 98 in the state last year and 91 a year ago, according to state data — only a few medical providers now routinely perform abortions. The state does not track who the providers are and they rarely promote their services.
Casper Clinic will be far more open with its services, which will include women’s, family planning and gender-affirming health care in addition to abortion. It would help fill a gap when the city’s Planned Parenthood clinic, which did not provide abortions, closed in 2017 for financial reasons.
An outspoken local rival of the clinic, Ross Schriftman, expressed dismay about the fire. Yet he said that everyone should oppose abortion and noted that the goal is not to make abortion illegal but “unthinkable.”
“I don’t have a uterus. But I do have a heart, mind, and the First Amendment. And I have every right to speak about how I feel about an issue,” said a member of the Jewish Pro-Life Foundation , said Schriftman.
Little Walker said her miscarriage was both heartbreaking and beautiful.
At a Denver hospital, Little Walker and her husband, Ian, adopted their daughter, whom they named Rianna, after her death. They perpetuate her memory in a heart-shaped container with items including her ashes, her tiny hands and footprints, and a baby blanket.
“I think it’s Rianna’s legacy to share her story and help people understand that abortion is a lot bigger than the hype that you believe. It’s a lot more complicated. It’s very, very gray.” And it can affect anyone,” Little Walker said.
“When you find yourself in a difficult situation, you only want to have options.”
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