Clinic business

Chaos and tears as abortion clinic abruptly closes as court overturns Roe

An emotional scene unfolded as this Texas clinic turned away patients as soon as the Supreme Court struck down Roe

On Friday, patient advocate Marjorie Eisen spends a quiet, sad moment with another clinic staff member at the Houston Women's Reproductive Services Clinic.
On Friday, patient advocate Marjorie Eisen spends a quiet, sad moment with another clinic staff member at the Houston Women’s Reproductive Services Clinic. (Annie Mulligan/For The Washington Post)

HOUSTON — Phones began ringing, as they always have, moments after Houston Women’s Reproductive Services opened at 9 a.m. Friday — with patients needing abortions calling for a spot on the calendar.

Then, 12 minutes later, it all stopped. The Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade.

“Can we still perform abortions today? asked patient advocate Marjorie Eisen, thinking of the 20 women they had booked for appointments.

Several were already in the waiting room, scrolling through their phones as they waited.

“No,” said Kathy Kleinfeld, co-owner of the clinic. “Had finished.”

A silence settled over the staff as they thought about the amazing news – and what it would mean for the patients they served every day.

For the first time since 1973, Americans would not have the constitutional right to abortion. The seismic decision will transform the lives of millions of women in the future. But on that scorching Friday morning in Texas, it was a stark, life-altering change for the patients who sat in the waiting room that day, thinking they had found a solution to their unwanted pregnancies.

The state had already banned abortions at six weeks, but the end of roe deer reinstated an existing outright ban enacted before the historic precedent, instantly making it illegal for doctors at the clinic to perform the procedure. And while the clinic’s lawyers plan to challenge this law in court, the best they can do is give the clinic a little more time: In 30 days, a trigger ban will go into effect in Texas, banning abortions statewide.

Roe’s disappearance marks another milestone in state-by-state battle over abortion

Suddenly the staff had to decide what to say to their patients. Some of the women on the program that day had children, some did not. They were white, black and Hispanic. At least one had traveled hundreds of miles to Houston as the only clinic in her home state of Mississippi was scheduling multiple appointments weeks – and she wanted to put her pregnancy behind her.

Kleinfeld began leading the women out of the waiting room, one by one, to tell them the news.

The second woman she spoke to walked out of the clinic in tears.

Since opening Houston Women’s Reproductive Services in 2019, Kleinfeld has worked hard to create a space where her patients would feel comfortable. She keeps a vase of lilies in the waiting room and lines the walls with motivational posters in various pastel hues.

As Kleinfeld informed patients of the decision, a Spotify playlist titled “Peaceful Guitar” played in the background.

Meanwhile, other patient advocates turned to the phones: they had 35 patients scheduled to call.

Eisen, who had worked in the abortion field for 30 years, hadn’t really prepared for this moment. Even after a draft decision leaked in May, she hadn’t wanted to believe roe deer could really fall.

“We don’t even know which states to send them to,” Eisen said, speaking to fellow patient advocates. “California?”

She looked at a map of America, the states where abortion was banned in gray, then picked up the phone. She would start with the first appointments and work through the afternoon, she decided: Best to minimize the number of patients they had to turn away in person.

One of the first patients on the list was Victoria, a 25-year-old single mother who was five weeks pregnant.

Victoria, who spoke to The Washington Post on the condition that only her first name be used to protect her privacy, was 30 minutes from the clinic when she received the call, stopped at a red light. As soon as she heard the news, she said, she broke down crying, trying to figure out what she would do now.

“There are a lot of women who just can’t,” she later said in an interview. “And right now, I just can’t.”

Although she couldn’t get an abortion, Victoria decided to come to the clinic to talk about her options. The staff gave her a magazine article about ordering abortion pills online and mentioned a few states where the procedure was still legal.

New Mexico. Colorado. Florida. Illinois.

Victoria would have to line up for childcare, she said, and apply for additional leave. She would be able to cover her travel expenses, but barely: after her abortion, she says, she would return to live “paycheck after paycheck”.

This Texas teenager wanted an abortion. She now has twins.

The news was particularly painful, Victoria said, because she learned of her pregnancy so early. As restrictive as Texas’ six-week ban was, she said, she still managed to “beat it.”

“I’m five weeks old, there’s no heartbeat.” And yet, she says, “my rights have just been taken away.”

After Victoria left the clinic, Eisen continued to answer her calls. Some of the patients took the news with ease, calmly asking about various clinics in other states. Others asked if she was sure of the decision. One begged.

“I can pay extra,” the woman said.

“It’s not about the expense,” Eisen said. “It’s just a matter of legality.”

Phones continued to ring for much of the morning with new patients calling to make appointments, completely ignoring the Supreme Court’s ruling. Eisen and others kept repeating the same message: We have a Supreme Court decision. Consider who you might be able to stay in other states. It’s devastating. I am really sorry.

Eventually, Kleinfeld decided she needed to record a new outgoing message.

“I am sorry to inform you that as of today, Friday June 24, 2022, Roe vs. Wade, the right to legalized abortion, has been overturned,” Kleinfeld said. “As of today, we are no longer able to provide abortion services.”

She paused, then added another thought.

“We hope you all remember this when it comes time to vote.”

Turning down patient after patient, Kleinfeld was frustrated with how little help she could offer. When the Texas abortion ban went into effect in the fall, she had referred patients to a sister clinic in Oklahoma. When Oklahoma banned abortions in the spring, it diverted them to providers in New Mexico or Colorado.

Now most of the Southeast and Midwest would be dark.

All morning, Kleinfeld had been handing out copies of a Ms. Magazine article titled “People Get Creative to Get Abortion Pills Online,” which described various places to buy abortion pills – both legally and illegally. She marked “Aid Access” with a yellow highlighter, drawing attention to an Austrian organization led by Dutch doctor Rebecca Gomperts, which sends abortion pills to all 50 states, including many states that have banned abortion by the job.

She couldn’t advise people to illegally order abortion pills online, Kleinfeld said with a smile, but she could hand out recommended reading.

The doorbell rang and Kleinfeld looked at their external video camera.

Another patient was waiting to come in.