Whole Woman’s Health is one of just five remaining abortion clinics in Minnesota and has been providing full-service reproductive health care for people across the Midwest for nearly a decade. Recently, the building where our Twin Cities clinic was located in downtown Minneapolis was sold, forcing us and everyone in our building to relocate. In early March, our move was made public and hundreds of protesters gathered at our new clinic site (while still under construction), disrupting our neighbors, the community, and instilling anxiety in our patients and health care staff, who now, on top of our move, face further unprecedented obstacles related to COVID-19. Thankfully, the construction is completed and our new clinic in Bloomington is open and serving patients. While the protests seem to have calmed some, we are once again faced with interference.
Whole Woman’s Health of the Twin Cities recently was served with a federal lawsuit from several right-wing organizations and medical providers who aim to block procedural abortions during the coronavirus pandemic. They cite Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order that limits nonessential health care to preserve personal protective equipment (PPE). Abortion services are currently exempt from the order, as is also the case in the vast majority of states across the U.S. This lawsuit is just another attempt to restrict abortion care under the guise of health and safety. This argument is nothing new to us, as abortion care came to a halt in April in the state of Texas, where Whole Woman’s Health manages three clinics. The effects on pregnant women in the state were devastating, and hundreds of women were denied essential abortion care services for nearly a month while we fought the order in court.
More critical during COVID-19 pandemic
Time is of the essence for those who need our services, and accurate, medical information is paramount. As the COVID-19 global pandemic halts normal activity across the state, our work providing the essential health care of abortion care only becomes more critical. No one should ever be forced to carry a pregnancy against her will, and most especially not in a pandemic when our lives are filled with uncertainty, economic crisis, fears about our own health and the health of our loved ones.
As a native Minnesotan, I have been surprised and disappointed by the anti-abortion sentiments I have encountered here. Minnesota prides itself on progressive values and being a national leader in health care, yet abortion providers here face obstacles just like those in red states like Texas. Obstacles to abortion care have been the norm in Minnesota well before the COVID-19 crisis layered on even greater threats to reproductive health care.
Many Minnesotans overestimate access to abortion in our state. A recent poll asked respondents to guess how many health centers in the state provide abortion. The average estimate was 41. Participants were shocked to learn there are only five. Ninety-six percent of Minnesota voters cannot describe one state law or restriction on abortion even though countless barriers exist, including a mandatory 24-hour waiting period before seeing a doctor; an additional, medically unnecessary appointment where doctors are mandated to read a script of inaccurate information to patients drafted by politicians, before they can receive any care; and rules that force minors to notify both parents of their decision, even if the minor has an abusive parent or no relationship with one or both of the parents.
Attempts to add more restrictions
And the barrage of attempts to add more restrictions are constant. Since 1995, more than 400 unconstitutional restrictions to abortion have been proposed by politicians in the state Legislature, including a 2018 bill to fully ban abortion. These legislative attempts are happening at a time when a majority (64%) of Minnesota voters believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
We know many people have strong feelings and beliefs about abortion. Decisions about an unplanned pregnancy are never easy and are deeply personal. As proud Minnesotans facing an unprecedented time in our history, we hope our communities can respect the importance of access to safe and compassionate abortion care, as 82% of Minnesotans agree abortion should not be so political or politicized, and wide margins prefer that women and their doctors, not politicians, make decisions around abortion.
People have come to count on Whole Woman’s Health for the holistic care model we offer – supporting our patient’s head, heart, mind and body. Now with the additional obstacles from this global pandemic, we want to reassure our patients, our community, and our new neighbors, that we are here for you. We will continue to do everything in our power to keep our patients and our clinic staff safe, take care of our neighbors, and serve the community of Bloomington and beyond with compassion. Whole Woman’s Health of the Twin Cities and our partners at UnRestrict Minnesota are here for you, and here to stay.
Amy Hagstrom Miller is the CEO of Whole Woman’s Health of the Twin Cities.
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