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Reproductive rights defenders rally in front of the United States Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on May 2, 2022 after news broke that Roe v. Wade is set to be overturned. (Photo: Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Abortion Providers Fearful But Resolute as They Ready for Post-Roe World

"Tomorrow I'm going to wake up, go to work, and continue to provide abortions. Because I'm a doctor, it's my job, and it's the right thing to do."

Brett Wilkins

Following this week's bombshell leak of a U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion signifying the likely reversal of Roe v. Wade, abortion providers said they are fearful yet resolute as they prepare to navigate an uncertain looming legal landscape where simply doing their job could carry profound risks.

"We're past a red alert moment. The house is burning right now. I feel exhausted and fucking angry."

"We are not surprised by the decision. We are very surprised by the leak," Robin Marty, an operations director at the West Alabama Women's Center, told BuzzFeed News after learning that five right-wing Supreme Court justices provisionally voted to overturn Roe, the landmark 1973 ruling legalizing abortion nationwide.

"A lot of what is in this decision was pretty much already written in the stars when we heard the arguments in December, and we've kind of been making assumptions ever since then," she added. "We always hoped that something would happen at the last minute, that somehow cooler heads would prevail."

Katie Quiñonez, who runs an abortion clinic in Charleston, West Virginia, told The 19th that some members of her team were left in disbelief by Monday's leak.

"I heard multiple staff say over and over again, 'I can't believe this is happening,'" she said. "We're past a red alert moment. The house is burning right now. I feel exhausted and fucking angry."

Dr. Jamila Perritt, president and CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health, told Insider that "I think the biggest fear that my colleagues, that I have is that the 20-plus years we've spent training to do this work, that we've spent in medical school and residency and fellowship is now being thrown into question."

"We're physicians. We're healthcare providers. It is our job to care for our communities in a way that is supportive, in a way that is compassionate."

"We're physicians. We're healthcare providers," she said. "It is our job to care for our communities in a way that is supportive, in a way that is compassionate, and that is free from stigma and change. That's why we came to the work and that's the work we want to be able to continue to do."

Many providers described widespread confusion among patients and even staff over the future of abortion care in their areas.

In an interview with HuffPost, Marty of West Alabama Women's Center said that "on decision days, we will always let patients know before their appointment that there is the possibility that their right to a legal abortion could disappear while they're filling out paperwork or when they're waiting on the exam table."

"If that happens, there's literally nothing that we can do for them," she continued. "It's a horrible thing to say to a patient: 'Right now, you can have care, but in 30 minutes I don't know if I can give you the procedure that you want." 

"But this is the discussion that we're going to have to have with every patient who comes through our doors," she added.

Others pointed to states that have recently criminalized abortion providers in anticipation of further legislation—including so-called "trigger laws"—that is likely to affect a majority of U.S. states.

"Make no mistake, these laws have a chilling effect on the ability to practice safe obstetrics," Dr. Courtney A. Schreiber, chief of family planning at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine OB-GYN department, told The New York Times last month.

"These laws put physicians in an impossible position of having to balance regulations that don't take into account the complexity of pregnancy and an actual person's urgent need to sustain their health,” she continued, adding that when the laws are applied "in real life to real doctors taking care of real women, the language doesn't translate, the sentiment doesn’t translate."

"The level of confusion and fear is intense for physicians practicing obstetrics in states with these restrictions," she added.

At least one doctor has already been sued in Texas, which last year enacted a law that empowers citizen vigilantes to collect $10,000 bounties for successfully suing anyone who "aids and abets" an abortion.

Despite the perils and pitfalls of a post-Roe world, abortion providers vowed to keep offering care as best and for as long as they can.

"If we say that we're here and willing to provide abortion, they're ready to risk it," Marty said of her staff and patients. "You can tell them it could put them in jail and they're like, 'OK, let's go ahead and do this anyway.' Because the alternative is continuing a pregnancy and giving birth when you don't want to. There's no end to the desperation of people who want to terminate a pregnancy."

Perritt told Insider: "If I'm at the point where I become numb to assaults against bodily autonomy and reproductive health rights and justice, I need to find a new job. I can't be numb to this. This is critical. This is a human rights issue."

"I take care of real human people," she added. "This isn't rhetoric and political theater to me. These are actual people's lives. And so I know that the impact, I know what the impact of being able to make a decision about building your family or not, about deciding your future, about controlling your body, I know what that looks like in real-time."

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