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Abortion clinics in the Deep South are dealing with the realities of a post-Roe v. Wade world

<i>Rory Doyle/Reuters/File</i><br/>The Jackson Women's Health Organization is Mississippi's only abortion clinic.
Rory Doyle/Reuters/File
The Jackson Women's Health Organization is Mississippi's only abortion clinic.

By Amir Vera and Randi Kaye, CNN

Jenny and Lisa had two very different experiences when they each decided to visit the Alabama Women’s Center in Huntsville, nearly two weeks apart.

Lisa, 18, was able to undergo an abortion procedure on June 10, she told CNN Monday.

Jenny, 18, came in Monday unaware that the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade — thus allowing states to limit abortion access — had taken immediate effect.

“I didn’t know it was already causing places to stop doing them,” Jenny said. “I just started crying.”

Timing had been the determining factor for both women, who agreed to speak with CNN on the condition of anonymity to protect their privacy. CNN is not using their real names. Their situations illustrate the crushing blow the Supreme Court’s decision has had on women and clinics across the country, with many losing what was once a federally protected right to get an abortion and clinics having to either shut down or change their services.

On top of that, physicians now need to be cautious in communicating with patients because they could face criminal charges if they perform abortions. In Alabama, specifically, most abortions are banned with exceptions only “to avoid a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother,” for ectopic pregnancy and if the “unborn child has a lethal anomaly” — not for instances of rape or incest.

Dr. Yashica Robinson, who runs the Alabama Women’s Center in Huntsville, said it is hard to prove a mother’s life is at risk.

“I don’t know how I prove that until she’s at that critical moment,” she said. “The one thing you don’t do as a physician (is) you don’t wait until people get into trouble and then act, you try to be proactive. I think the only way we can prove it is if we start doing the exact opposite of the way we’ve been trained, we let patients get critical so that it is very clear cut and then you’ll be able to proceed, and hopefully it won’t be too late.”

Alabama’s law allows for punishing doctors who perform abortions with life in prison.

“My greatest concern is being able to care for patients without harming them and also without getting myself into trouble,” Robinson said.

‘I felt powerless as a physician’

Jenny and Lisa had deeply personal reasons for wanting an abortion, they both told CNN.

Lisa said she was in an abusive relationship and her partner would not have provided for her or her child. She was 11 weeks pregnant when she had her abortion.

“I had no way of doing anything to be able to support said child, and he was not going to, so I had to do what I had to do to be able to keep me and a child from suffering,” she said. “I’m proud of the decision I made no matter what choices are being made now. It was the best decision for me and I’m OK with that.”

Jenny arrived to the Huntsville clinic with a friend, having found out she was pregnant about a month ago, she said.

“I shouldn’t have the baby. I’m not in a good place right now to have it,” she said.

Once she was told the clinic did not perform abortions anymore, she felt lost not knowing what her options were or where she would go next.

“I just don’t think it’s fair. No matter the situation, I feel like you should be able to have an abortion,” she said. She said she will likely go to Georgia or Florida, the two closest states that still — for now — allow abortions.

Robinson, who has been working at the Women’s Center since 2006, told CNN many of her patients broke down in tears Friday when the news dropped about the Supreme Court decision.

“I felt powerless as a physician. You know, I know how to care for these patients. It’s like you have the tools to help somebody and you choose not to help them. And that was hard for me,” she said.

Robinson said she has two general OBGYN clinics and the one clinic that focuses abortion care, which will now offer other gynecological services.

On Monday, a staff member on the phone could be heard telling a potential patient: “Unfortunately due to overturning of Roe v Wade, you need to go to a neighboring state.”

Now concerned with the legal ramifications of this ruling, Robinson said her greatest concern is a delay in care for patients.

“If you delay care for patients, I may dodge a bullet when it comes to legal or being prosecuted for performing an abortion that someone disagrees with — they don’t feel that the patient was critical enough at that time — but I still have families to deal with so when patients are harmed, you have to deal with their families,” she said.

Mississippi clinic vows to provide services as long as possible

Across the state line in Mississippi, Jackson Women’s Health Organization is operating on borrowed time after the Supreme Court decision, according to the clinic’s owner Diane Derzis.

The clinic is due to close once the state’s trigger law banning most abortions takes effect. State Attorney General Lynn Fitch certified the Supreme Court decision Monday, her office said, and the law is set to take effect 10 days after certification.

“I feel bad for the Mississippi women because these are the women that are needing these services and can’t get these services,” said Shannon Brewer, the executive director of the Jackson clinic. “The very ones who are going to be needing it the most are the ones who don’t have access to get it.”

Jackson Women’s Health Organization — the state’s only abortion clinic — was at the center of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case involved in the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Derzis said Friday the clinic will continue to help women find the services they need after it is forced to stop providing abortions.

“It’s funding all over the country. So we know how to put her in touch with those individuals and figure out which is the closest clinic you know, there’ll be women who are able to afford a plane ticket and if they can hop on a plane and get into Las Cruces, or Baltimore, Maryland or wherever, Chicago, Illinois, then that wherever is the easiest to get her in because her needs have to come first,” said Derzis.

Brewer spoke through tears Friday as she thanked the medical staff for their work.

“Even up until today, while we’re doing this, they’re still talking to patients and seeing patients, so those are the things I try to focus on. I’m not trying to focus that everything is completely gone, because we’re still here, we’re still fighting, we’re just fighting in a different place,” she said.

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Alta Spells, Natasha Chen, Kelly McCleary, Holly Yan, Tierney Sneed and Caroline Kelly contributed to this report.

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