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Patients Sat in Abortion Clinic Waiting Rooms As Roe Fell. They All Had To Be Turned Away.

In states with “trigger” laws, abortion services came to a halt on Friday morning as news rippled through clinic lobbies and patients, whose appointments were minutes outside of the window to receive care, had to be turned away.

A procedural table is set up for the next patient to receive a surgical abortion at the Jackson Women's Health Organization, the Mississippi clinic at the center of the case that overturned Roe v. Wade., (photo by Erin Clark/The Boston Globe).

Patients were in the lobby, waiting, the moment it became a post-Roe America.

The staff at Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services Clinic in San Antonio had just received a call from their attorney: Abortion procedures in Texas would have to stop immediately. The dozen or so patients in the lobby Friday morning would have to be turned away. The clinic staff would have to be the ones to tell them. 

Andrea Gallegos, the clinic’s administrator, and the rest of the staff walked out and addressed the room: “The Supreme Court made this decision today and, unfortunately, your geographical location affects your bodily autonomy,” she said they told waiting patients. 

Gallegos watched each word land like a blow. People cried. They screamed. They begged for help, she said. It was “complete despair.” 

Hours later, the clinic had emptied of all but those who had received their abortions hours or minutes before Roe v. Wade, the 50-year-old court case that enshrined abortion as a right, was overturned by the Supreme Court Friday, leaving the question of abortion access up to individual states. Only those with follow-up appointments could be seen. 

Gallegos and her staff called about 20 people who were scheduled to come in later that day. Some were caught off guard, Gallegos said. “Why today? Why the day of their appointment did this happen?” patients told her.

Those turned away were patients who were now outside an already small window: In September, Texas banned abortion past six weeks of pregnancy. That law was the first in a series of abortion restrictions passed in states across the country in the last year that served as a preview of life after Roe.

Texas also has a “trigger” law that would ban abortions from the moment of conception and would go into effect as soon as about two months from now. But in the chaos of Friday’s Supreme Court ruling, clinics across the state chose to cease all abortion services in the case that the ban would come into effect even sooner. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Friday that, under a separate pre-Roe ban in the state, “abortion providers could be criminally liable for providing abortions starting today.”

Across Texas and other states where trigger bans are in place and where, hour-by-hour, abortion is being completely outlawed, the same scene was playing out simultaneously: Waiting rooms were emptied. Waitlists were pulled up. Phone calls were made to people who had their abortions scheduled.

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At Whole Woman’s Health clinics across Texas, staff received notice in a conference call Friday morning. Marva Sadler, the senior director for clinical services for Whole Woman’s, an abortion provider with locations in five states, said clinic managers brought patients in from the lobby one by one to deliver the news. 

“Each patient was given the opportunity to have their reactions and their emotions privately,” Sadler said, conversations clinic staff had become well-versed in having over the 10 months since Texas’ ban had passed

It was difficult to be an abortion provider in the only state at the time to ban the procedure so early in gestation, Sadler said.

Those turned away were patients who were now outside an already small window: In September, Texas banned abortion past six weeks of pregnancy. That law was the first in a series of abortion restrictions passed in states across the country in the last year that served as a preview of life after Roe.

Texas also has a “trigger” law that would ban abortions from the moment of conception and would go into effect as soon as about two months from now. But in the chaos of Friday’s Supreme Court ruling, clinics across the state chose to cease all abortion services in the case that the ban would come into effect even sooner. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Friday that, under a separate pre-Roe ban in the state, “abortion providers could be criminally liable for providing abortions starting today.”

Across Texas and other states where trigger bans are in place and where, hour-by-hour, abortion is being completely outlawed, the same scene was playing out simultaneously: Waiting rooms were emptied. Waitlists were pulled up. Phone calls were made to people who had their abortions scheduled.

At Whole Woman’s Health clinics across Texas, staff received notice in a conference call Friday morning. Marva Sadler, the senior director for clinical services for Whole Woman’s, an abortion provider with locations in five states, said clinic managers brought patients in from the lobby one by one to deliver the news. 

“Each patient was given the opportunity to have their reactions and their emotions privately,” Sadler said, conversations clinic staff had become well-versed in having over the 10 months since Texas’ ban had passed

It was difficult to be an abortion provider in the only state at the time to ban the procedure so early in gestation, Sadler said.

Clinic staff is gripped by uncertainty. Many have been providing abortion services for decades. A physician at the San Antonio clinic was providing abortions pre-Roe, Gallegos said — and now he must consider how he will do that “post-Roe,” she notes. Sadler has been working to provide abortion access for about two decades. 

She said the fall of Roe only strengthens her determination, and that of her colleagues, to continue providing reproductive care, in whatever form, as long as they’re able. 

Her staff is standing by, she said. 

“If I told them we could see patients at midnight tonight,” Sadler said, “I have no doubt that every last one of them would show up without question.” 

Chabeli Carrazana is our economy reporter. Previously, she worked as a business reporter for the Miami Herald, where she covered the tourism industry, and the Orlando Sentinel, where she covered NASA, the private space industry and labor issues.

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