If You Want to Protect Pregnant People From Arrest, Fund Red-State Clinics

Supporting independent red-state clinics is critical in reducing the devastating impacts that abortion bans will have on the most marginalized folks.

Protest photo of an activist holding a sign that reads Abortion Is Health Care RosiesLaw.Org
We must advocate for red-state clinics to receive the same support, if not more, as those in blue states should abortion be banned completely. Because if our doors do close, the only options left truly will be death or jail. Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images

This past weekend, the murder charge against Lizelle Herrera, a Texas woman accused of inducing her own abortion, made national headlines. According to local activists at Frontera Fund, an abortion fund based in South Texas, Herrera’s arrest allegedly happened after she visited a hospital where, while in the process of miscarrying, she may have provided medical staff with information that made them believe she had induced her own abortion. (The charge was dropped Sunday.)

Whether or not Herrera did something to provoke a miscarriage, the reality is that her arrest and murder charge prove exactly what we have always known: Abortion opponents lie when they claim they will not investigate miscarriages, or that pregnant people will not end up in jail because of their anti-abortion laws. Just like Rosie Jiménez, who died in 1977 because she could not afford a safe abortion, South Texans have become the bellwether of the true harm of abortion bans in the United States.

This is a crisis we have all seen coming. Yet even with this scenario now playing out, our movement is unfortunately ignoring the elephant in the room when it comes to planning for a post-Roe v. Wade world. Whether a case of philanthropic myopia, nonprofit gatekeeping, unconscious racial bias, or some combination of the three, we appear to be heading down a path where, despite all our promises to uplift the most marginalized and least resourced, we silently abandon them instead.

If people truly believe abortion is a human right, we are obligated to provide at least as many resources to those who will be unable to leave hostile, anti-abortion states as we promise to those who have the privilege to travel somewhere else to obtain abortion care. Ensuring bodily autonomy is just as important for people who, for whatever reason, cannot travel, and financial need is just one of many issues that can stop a patient from getting to a state where abortion will be legal.

Those who are undocumented, don’t have access to child care, the resources to make a multiday journey, or the ability to find travel arrangements that accommodate their disabilities all deserve the same right to abortion as those who can navigate the system to help people get to a “haven” state. The simple reality is that there will never be enough funding to help every pregnant person seeking termination out of state.

Whether Herrera was terminating her own pregnancy or experiencing a “natural” miscarriage, she no doubt went to a hospital with her concerns because it was the only medical option she could find. And once there, she was handed over to the police. She needed an alternative, a safe place to go in person or contact by phone, where she could get health care without fear of ending up in jail as a result.

That is exactly why those of us who operate abortion clinics in hostile states will do everything we can to keep our doors open—yes, even if abortion is illegal.

Even today, we regularly care for people who are turned away from emergency rooms solely because hospital staff believes they may have had an abortion. Without us, who can they turn to next?

Just like today, if Roe is overturned and abortion becomes illegal, it will be independent, red-state clinics that will support people who terminate a pregnancy. We will do everything in our power to remain open to provide safe, secure ultrasounds for those who manage their own abortions at home but are unsure whether the abortion was successful or whether they need follow-up care. We will offer consultations to pregnant people experiencing bleeding—regardless of whether those pregnancies are unwanted or intended—so that a person doesn’t risk being investigated at a doctor’s office or hospital, as Herrera was.

We will provide miscarriage management for patients with nonviable pregnancies who are turned away by physicians who cannot or will not help them. And we will do all these things because in many cases, this is what we already do for our communities even as abortion is still technically legal—and we will not stop.

Clinics in haven states will be overwhelmed if abortion becomes a state-by-state decision, and, of course, making sure those clinics can expand or open new locations is a need that cannot be ignored. Funding practical support groups, such as the Brigid Alliance and Midwest Access Coalition, and assisting abortion funds in every state is imperative to helping pregnant people navigate what will essentially be an abortion desert from New Mexico to Florida, and as far north as Illinois.

But that cannot be the only place where we direct financial resources. Supporting independent red-state clinics—especially those that are in less-hostile states but do not have partner clinics they can lean on for financial stability—is imperative if we want to reduce harm and the increasingly devastating impacts that abortion bans will have on those who are least able to navigate around them. Many of these people live in states where Planned Parenthood affiliates and other family-planning services are scarce or outright nonexistent. (North Dakota has just one independent abortion provider, and there are no Planned Parenthood clinics of any kind in the state.) They live in states with the largest percentages of Black residents and the highest concentrated poverty rates, states where Medicaid expansion never went into effect, and states where unintended pregnancy and maternal mortality rates are some of the highest in the nation.

These are the areas where self-managed care will be most common, and where unsuccessful pregnancies are already prevalent. How have we not prioritized helping members of these communities feel safe and protected in their own homes?

If the Supreme Court’s ruling on Mississippi’s 15-week ban in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization allows states to completely ban abortion in June—as is widely anticipated—abortion will immediately become illegal in Alabama, just as it will in a dozen other states across the country. Despite that fact, we know abortions will continue to occur in Alabama via nonclinical means. That is why we at the West Alabama Women’s Center intend to be a safe space for follow-up care. No one in Alabama or Mississippi should have to choose between forgoing medical care and facing a murder charge simply because they lack the financial or logistical resources to travel to Florida or Illinois for care.

Unfortunately, we can be that refuge only as long as we are able to keep our doors open. Without receiving the same assistance given to blue-state clinics and organizations such as Planned Parenthood, we will last a few months at best. Once clinics like ours are gone, there will truly be no safe haven for abortion access in the South, a vast area of the country with a scarcity of general, let alone reproductive, health care. Even today, we regularly care for people—for patients bleeding on the floor—who are turned away from emergency rooms solely because hospital staff believes they may have had an abortion. Without us, who can they turn to next?

We must advocate for red-state clinics to receive the same support, if not more, as those in blue states should abortion be banned completely. Because if our doors do close, the only options left, as Herrera’s story has already shown, truly will be death or jail.