An anxious wait: How one of Louisiana's last abortion clinics is bracing for the Roe v. Wade ruling

·6 min read
A woman's hands are folded in her lap as she waits to have a procedure to terminate her pregnancy at Hope Medical Group for Women, a clinic in Shreveport, La.  (Lyzaville Sale/CBC - image credit)
A woman's hands are folded in her lap as she waits to have a procedure to terminate her pregnancy at Hope Medical Group for Women, a clinic in Shreveport, La. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC - image credit)

To get an appointment at the only abortion clinic serving northern Louisiana, a patient needs to be prepared to wait.

It can take more than a week to get a call back to schedule a consultation at the Hope Medical Group for Women clinic, located on the corner of a busy intersection in Shreveport.

The city sits roughly 30 kilometres east of the Texas border; in the clinic's parking lot, there are several licence plates from the neighbouring state.

Demand has surged since Texas passed abortion restrictions in September 2021, which significantly limit access to the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy.

This busy clinic — one of only three in the state — could be forced to shut down, with little notice, depending on what the Supreme Court decides later this month.

According to a leaked draft decision of a case involving a Mississippi law, the court is prepared to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, which has upheld federal abortion rights for nearly 50 years. Instead, abortion laws would be determined by elected lawmakers at the state level.

Jennifer Barr/CBC
Jennifer Barr/CBC

"I vacillate between anger and then sadness," said Kathaleen Pittman, the clinic's lead administrator, who has spent decades working in this field.

If the final ruling remains the same as the leaked draft, Pittman said, her clinic will be forced to shut down — though she doesn't know how quickly that would happen.

"Everybody asks me, you know, 'What plans have you made? Should we close?' I have made zero plans, because it's all I can do to get through day to day and take care of the patients that are already coming to us," she said.

WATCH | A look inside one of Louisiana's three abortion clinics:

Louisiana is one of 13 states with a so-called trigger law, which ban or severely restrict access to abortion in the event Roe v. Wade is overturned. And it's among the 26 states that are certain or likely to ban or severely restrict access to abortion should the Supreme Court go in that direction, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research organization.

Lawmakers in this state are some of the most conservative in the country when it comes to abortion legislation. In fact, Republican Representative Danny McCormick proposed prosecuting abortion patients for murder.

These 13 states have laws in place designed to ban abortions immediately — or soon after — Roe vs. Wade is overturned

"The act of abortion ends a life of a human being," McCormick said during a televised session of the state legislature in May. "The taking of a life is murder, and it is illegal."

The proposal did not go very far, as it was deemed too extreme by anti-abortion organizations in Louisiana.

But Louisiana's Republicans and Democrats have found common ground on this issue, uniting to pass three bills connected to abortion in recent weeks. New measures include tougher penalties for abortion providers and restrictions on access to the abortion pill.

The five elected women serving as state senators, two Democrats and three Republicans, all oppose abortion rights — all voting in favour of bills to restrict access.

Inside the clinic

Pittman predicts these measures won't actually end abortion in her state but will instead increase hospitalizations for patients trying to terminate a pregnancy without help from a medical professional.

"Desperate times call for, you know, ... desperate measures," she said.

What's happening in the U.S. should also be a wake-up call to other countries, says Pittman. "Don't think you're safe, because nobody is … never say never because it can happen anywhere."

Jennifer Barr/CBC
Jennifer Barr/CBC

CBC News was invited into the clinic and spent a recent Tuesday morning speaking with patients. Three women agreed to share their stories with CBC as long as their identities remained protected because they did not want to publicly share the details of their medical decisions. CBC News agreed to withhold their names.

Tuesdays at the clinic are procedure days. The patients scheduled for abortion procedures on those days have all had a consultation and completed the state-mandated 72-hour waiting period. Patients will drive for hours to get there; their only alternatives in the state are clinics in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, both of which are more than 375 kilometres away.

"I'm here today because I cannot afford another child," one of the patients told CBC News. "Basically, I only have enough to take care of me and my daughter."

The woman lives in Shreveport and is in her early 20s; she's in the middle of a custody battle with the father of her two-year-old. When she became pregnant the first time, she put her studies at nursing school on hold.

"I would love to keep the baby, but I'm already going through enough," she said. "I'm still in school, and I'm living with my mom. So, it just is not the right time."

A financial hardship

In a city where one in four of its 184,000 residents live below the federal poverty line, Pittman said she sees many such patients who are already mothers who worry they can't financially support a larger family.

And were Roe v. Wade to be overturned, and Louisiana to ban abortion, these women would face the added financial burden of having to travel to another state if they wished to terminate a pregnancy.

Lyzaville Sale/CBC
Lyzaville Sale/CBC

"You've got people who can't afford to have kids and might go into poverty," said a second woman at the clinic, also in her early 20s.

She said she didn't have any trouble making the decision to get an abortion, for which she made a two-hour drive from her home in neighbouring Texas. She has dreams of going to nursing school and says she doesn't have the support she needs to raise a child.

"A kid is a lot of responsibility ... it's a lifetime commitment," she said.

The third woman said she had a much more difficult time making her choice. She lives elsewhere in Louisiana and  doesn't support abortion in most circumstances, even though she was at the clinic to terminate a pregnancy of her own.

"How my health is, I know I don't want to go through it," she said. "I asked God for forgiveness. It's just a lesson learned."

This woman said she nearly died when she was pregnant with her son. She had significant complications related to her blood pressure and ended up delivering at the 28-week mark.

Jennifer Barr/CBC
Jennifer Barr/CBC

She's in her early 20s and said she fears another pregnancy could endanger her life.

"I want to watch my son grow up," she said, as she began to cry.

"Sometimes you going to be thinking about it, but you just got to move on with your life," she said. "It's hard."

Her choice is in conflict with her own personal beliefs. As difficult as it was for her to make, she said, she did it in the hopes of creating a better life for herself and her son.

Any day now, the Supreme Court will release its decision, something that may change who gets to make those choices.