The abortion providers who will see us through a Trump presidency

They have outlasted patronizing and mean-spirited politicians before.

Trust Women’s founder and CEO Julie Burkhart stands in a consultation room at the Trust Women South Wind Women’s Center in Oklahoma City. CREDIT: AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
Trust Women’s founder and CEO Julie Burkhart stands in a consultation room at the Trust Women South Wind Women’s Center in Oklahoma City. CREDIT: AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

In just under two weeks, our country will inaugurate a man who has suggested that women be punished for having abortions and who has promised to appoint anti-choice justices to vacant Supreme Court seats. He’s building a cabinet full of very rich white men, nearly all of whom have expressed anti-choice views. The Republican-led Congress appears intent on stripping millions of Americans of health care and reproductive services.

There are times when the uphill battle we face feels overwhelming.

But as we prepare for the uncertain future of abortion rights in this country, talking with community-based abortion care providers gives me hope. These are the people who have been through the toughest of times, who have outlasted patronizing and mean-spirited politicians, and who are some of the most resilient people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.

“Indies” are often the last clinic standing in states that have rendered the right to abortion nearly meaningless. They are a lifeline for women.

Abortion Care Network is a national membership organization dedicated to supporting independent abortion care providers. These are primarily women-owned and operated community-based clinics, and they provide the majority of abortion care in the United States. You may not have heard of these places, but chances are you know someone who has received care from an independent abortion provider.

Many independent abortion providers — or “indies” as they affectionately call one another — were founded on feminist values to provide care where and when no one else would. They keep this promise by continuing to provide care, even in the face of threats, harassment, and relentless legislative attacks. Indies are often the last clinic standing in states that have rendered the right to abortion nearly meaningless. They are a lifeline for women who face mounting logistical, financial, and legal barriers to getting the care they need.

The people who run these clinics have more grit and guts than anyone I’ve ever met. And the staff — from the doctors and nurses who provide impeccable, compassionate care, to the receptionists and counselors who support patients in accessing care — are capable, determined, and big-hearted. Knowing that these people will be at the forefront of the movement for reproductive freedom over the next four years gives me hope.

Take, for instance, “The One Woman Screwing Up North Dakota’s Plan to End Abortion.” Tammi Kromenaker runs Red River Women’s Clinic in North Dakota — a small, nondescript building on a quiet street in downtown Fargo.

Kromenaker knows her neighbors, supports the local schools, and participates in the civic and social life of the town. She also runs the last and only abortion clinic in the entire state. Every day, women who have made the profound and personal decision to end a pregnancy count on her clinic to get the care they need. In return, Kromenaker has endured screaming protesters who harass women as they walk through the door, bullies in the state legislature who are hell-bent on shutting her down, and even threats to her own health and safety.

But she won’t back down. When I asked Kromenaker what she was worried about happening under a Trump presidency, she said, “North Dakota politicians have been trying to shut me down for years — I’m not going anywhere.”

“If I was scared all the time, if I let this stuff get me down, I couldn’t do the work. I wouldn’t have lasted as long as I have,” she added.

Kromenaker isn’t the only one who has to endure protesters. In fact, since the election, our network of independent abortion care providers has seen a spike in people harassing patients outside their clinics. Some carry Trump signs; others taunt staff that they will be shut down within the year.

“We will never stop fighting, and ultimately we will prevail.”

Daily, these clinics receive calls from women wondering if they can still get their birth control or keep their upcoming appointment — the threat alone of increased restrictions has convinced many patients that the care they are seeking is now illegal. Patients fear they will lose their health coverage altogether, that affordable birth control will no longer be available, and that abortion will no longer be legal or accessible. Staff at indies across the country are working hard to reassure patients and their communities that they will do everything they can to continue to provide care.

It won’t be easy. Independent providers don’t have the national name recognition or institutional support to raise money or get an influx of volunteers when a political crisis strikes — even though they are more vulnerable. Indies are more likely to be targeted and harassed by anti-choice extremists and often bear the brunt of laws designed to shut clinics down.

A woman enters Whole Woman’s Health’s administrative office, Monday, June 27, 2016, in Austin, Texas. CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay
A woman enters Whole Woman’s Health’s administrative office, Monday, June 27, 2016, in Austin, Texas. CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay

Amy Hagstrom Miller knows this reality all too well. Hagstrom Miller is the founder of Whole Woman’s Health — the lead plaintiff in the abortion rights case that was decided by the Supreme Court last June. In Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Supreme Court sided with Amy and her clinic, striking down the Texas law which had shut down more than half of the state’s abortion clinics. It was an historic victory for women’s health, a game-changer after years of increased restrictions on abortion at the state level. And even as they’ve taken on anti-choice Texas politicians, Amy and the staff of Whole Woman’s Health continue to provide care at all of their clinics.

Asked if the recent Supreme Court victory felt dimmed by the looming Trump presidency, Hagstrom Miller was characteristically defiant.

“I’m sure this new president and Congress will do their worst, but I believe in my heart that we who support women’s decisions are on the right side of history,” she said. “Every day in the USA, good women have abortions. For those women, we will never stop fighting, and ultimately we will prevail.”

As if anti-choice legislation and aggressive protesters weren’t enough, many of Trump’s nominees also raise serious questions about the future of abortion access in this country. For instance, Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for Attorney General, has a well-documented history of opposing reproductive rights. As a senator, Sessions specifically voted against protections for abortion care providers and has opposed attempts to hold anti-choice extremists accountable for violence or harassment. Those are extremely concerning stances from the top legal authority in the country, particularly considering that the safety and security of abortion care providers — from doctors to receptionists — is a concern shared by every clinic owner we work with.

“I am not looking back, I am not going back, and I will keep these doors open.”

Julie Burkhart knows the realities of anti-choice violence: for seven years, she worked side by side with Dr. George Tiller to protect and preserve abortion access in Kansas. When Dr. Tiller was murdered in his church by an anti-abortion zealot, Julie didn’t give up. She carries on the legacy of Dr. Tiller’s vision for women’s health care at South Wind Women’s Center in Wichita, Kansas. Earlier this year, she also opened a new abortion clinic in Oklahoma — a state decidedly hostile to abortion access.

“It’s incredibly frightening to think of what could happen in this country if we don’t protect those providers who courageously provide abortion care,” Burkhart said. “But I believe that women deserve to make their own decisions about the future, and I believe in the doctors who risk so much to provide the best care to every woman who needs it. I am not looking back, I am not going back, and I will keep these doors open.”

Trump has said he wanted to punish women for having an abortion, and his remarks and cabinet nominations since the election indicate he plans to try. But in doing so, he will be up against Tammi, Amy, Julie, and the entire Abortion Care Network — as well as the millions of Americans who believe decisions about pregnancy and abortion are a woman’s to make for herself.

He has no idea who he’s messing with.