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For years, protesters gathered daily outside the Rio Grande Valley’s last abortion clinic, praying for the day it would be closed.
If their prayers were answered and abortion was banned, they could buy the sandstone squat building in downtown McAllen, turn it into a memorial for unborn children or use it to house their own anti-counseling center. -abortion.
Using a shell buyer to trick the building’s owner, the anti-abortion McAllen Pregnancy Center finally achieved that goal. In mid-October, they took over the former Whole Woman’s Health clinic site.
“To say we were duped is an understatement,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health.
How an anti-abortion nonprofit became the owner of the area’s last abortion clinic is a story of property chicanery, but also of the growing rift between abortion clinic operators and the communities they served. .
Before the overthrow of Roe v. Wade, clinics and community activists were on the same team – attack inside the clinic, defense outside. But the last few months have upset this dynamic.
After years of serving as escorts and advocates for the clinic, community organizers say the quick sale is the latest proof that when it comes to reproductive rights advocacy, they — and the Rio Grande Valley — stand alone.
“It’s just a reminder that we’re in for a really bad time, and it’s probably going to continue like this for our region for quite a while,” said Noemi Pratt, secretary of the board of directors for South Texans for Reproductive Rights. “And they were so easily able to make their way to the Trojan horse. How did you so easily allow this to happen?
When Hagstrom Miller answers the phone, she seems exhausted.
“It’s been a bumpy few days,” she said. “In a few bumpy months. Or, in fact, when did it start? Before SB 8, even. Maybe the [executive order]?”
Hagstrom Miller has operated abortion clinics in Texas for nearly two decades. It has never been easy.
When the state passed a 2013 omnibus law that shut down half of the state’s clinics, she took the case to the Supreme Court and won. In 2020, Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order closing abortion clinics during the early days of the pandemic; then, the state banned abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy.
Through it all, Whole Woman’s Health has fought to stay open. But when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, there was nothing left to fight. Whole Woman’s Health immediately closed its four Texas clinics.
The group had to try to sell two buildings in McAllen and Fort Worth and get out of two leases, in Austin and McKinney, while trying to relocate some of its operations to New Mexico.
When the McAllen Building went up for sale, South Texans for Reproductive Justice contacted Whole Woman’s Health and then launched an online fundraiser to raise $400,000 to buy and renovate the building.
The South Texans for Reproductive Justice wanted it to become a hub in their ongoing fight for access to abortion and reproductive health care in the Rio Grande Valley.
The all-volunteer nonprofit group harbored a fantasy: “We wanted to roll over there and be like, ‘McAllen Pregnancy Center, you think you won, but we’re still here,'” Pratt said, referencing at the center of pregnancy in crisis. aimed at discouraging women from having abortions.
“It was important for the community to know that … the lights are still on and we’re still fighting,” Pratt said.
The original fundraiser was to help South Texans for Reproductive Justice purchase the building, which would help Whole Woman’s Health move to New Mexico.
Pratt says an attorney from Whole Woman’s Health contacted them after the fundraiser launched and told them they couldn’t use the company’s name in their materials.
Hagstrom Miller says the email was not from the company’s attorney, but rather from an employee who happens to be an attorney. She said Whole Woman’s Health supported the group’s fundraising, but they asked South Texans for Reproductive Justice not to use their name.
“It was just weird that they … put it in their fundraising campaign like they were helping us fundraise for New Mexico, when we had a separate GoFundMe for New Mexico,” said said Hagstrom Miller. “It was confusing, and that’s the piece we asked them to remove.”
The fundraiser now says it is raising money to buy the “now-closed abortion clinic in McAllen, Texas.” Pratt said the temporary suspension of fundraising has significantly slowed their momentum.
“It doesn’t have the same impact,” she said. “We felt like we couldn’t say the name even though that was what it was called and everyone knew it that way.”
The group managed to raise almost $13,000 from 97 supporters, still far from their goal of $400,000. A few weeks ago Whole Woman’s Health announced that it would be accepting a cash offer from another party – a group of doctors operating under the trade name Peruvian Alliance.
Hagstrom Miller said Whole Woman’s Health, their attorneys and real estate agents looked into the group, which is led by local doctor Luis Rosas. She said they were particularly excited about a young Latina family doctor who was part of the group.
“We thought how great it would be if it could be used for a family practice clinic, run by a bilingual doctor, serving people of color and anyone who needed care in the community,” said- she declared.
Within two weeks of purchasing the building, the Peruvian Alliance sold it to the McAllen Pregnancy Center, according to deed records.
The McAllen Pregnancy Center has received more than $3 million over the past three years from the publicly funded Alternatives to Abortion program. In 2018, he moved to the “foot of the cross,” as a promotional video put it, three doors down from Whole Woman’s Health Clinic.
Rosas did not respond to requests for comment. Reached by phone, a woman who identified herself only as Selena declined to comment on behalf of the McAllen Pregnancy Center.
The building they just bought has been an abortion clinic for almost five decades. Whole Woman’s Health purchased it in 2004 from the original tenant, an abortion provider named Dr. Pedro Kowalyszyn.
The South Texans for Reproductive Justice fear women won’t realize this is now a crisis pregnancy center that will try to dissuade them from having an abortion, leaving the group in the painful position of considering ways to protest against the building they worked so hard for. protect.
“It changed from day to day,” Pratt said. “We want people to know that the building is no longer a safe space. He is no longer protected.
Hagstrom Miller said it’s heartbreaking to think their “sacred space” is being handed over to anti-abortion activists, and she understands the anger and betrayal that has bubbled up on Twitter, most directed at Whole Woman’s Health.
“Did we intend to cause harm to the community?” says Hagstrom Miller. “Of course not. We’ve fought with them and for them for decades. But is our clinic falling into the hands of anti-abortion people harming the community? Yeah, absolutely.
“We are so sorry that we sold our clinic to seemingly bad people,” she said.
Hagstrom Miller said she advocated at the highest levels, including Vice President Kamala Harris, for phased funding that would help clinic workers and community organizers cope with the sudden shutdown of the access to abortion.
She said a funder, whom she declined to name, told her they saw no point in investing in something that was “already dead”.
Without that soft landing, she understands why the valley organizers feel abandoned — she feels abandoned by the people above her, and they probably feel abandoned by the people above them. All of this, she says, comes down to forces far larger than clinics or organizers.
“I see all of this as a byproduct of what we’re going through as the grass is cut under the very people who have dedicated their lives to this work,” Hagstrom Miller said. “We all navigate this grief and trauma and change in the work we love.”
Whole Woman’s Health is considering whether it can take legal action against the first purchasers of the building. South Texans for Reproductive Justice say they intend to continue working to find a home for their work, which they see as more essential than ever.
But everyone takes time to collect themselves after this last devastating blow.
On the wall outside the clinic there is a mural, painted by a local artist. Beautiful depictions of Latin women, working together in community, are presented under the words “dignity, empowerment, compassion, justice”.
Pratt and Hagstrom Miller said they couldn’t imagine seeing this painted mural. But they also can’t imagine seeing it used by a group that defines those terms so differently than they do.
For them, there are no good options on the horizon for mural painting — or access to abortion in the Rio Grande Valley.