When the U.S. Supreme Court ended the constitutional right to abortion in the United States, Dr. Cheryl Hamlin was at her computer researching ways to expand access to medication abortion in a post-Roe country.
Since 2017, the Boston-based OB-GYN has traveled to Mississippi once a month to provide abortions at the state’s only abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, also known as the Pink House. The clinic is part of the case at the center of the Supreme Court’s ruling Friday morning.
“I didn’t expect it today, and I guess I was still holding out hope, so now we can let that go I guess,” she told Mississippi Today.
Abortion rights advocates in Mississippi expect that medication that can end a pregnancy under 11 weeks will become the cheapest and most accessible form of the procedure in the state. Websites like Plan C provide information about online pharmacies that can ship the pills, and Austria-based Aid Access provides prescriptions for people living anywhere in the United States, including Mississippi.
Mississippi’s trigger ban applies to medication abortion, but it’s not clear how the state could stop the flow of pills through the mail given that pharmacies and providers can be based overseas and following their own country’s laws. Hamlin hopes to get involved in efforts to help people get the pills.
“That’s kind of what I was in the middle of when I heard the news, so I guess I’ll go back to that,” she said.
During her most recent shift in Jackson, in early June, Hamlin knew she might never work at the Pink House again. But when she asked the clinic director Shannon Brewer if she ought to make plans to return in July, Brewer said yes, so Hamlin booked another ticket just in case Roe stood.
Now, she’s hoping to travel to Las Cruces, New Mexico, instead. The Pink House’s out-of-state doctors, leadership and some staff are planning to move there to open a new clinic they’re calling Pink House West, about an hour from El Paso.
When she began working in Mississippi, Hamlin was struck by how lack of access to health care shaped her patients’ trajectories to the clinic. Maybe they didn’t have a regular OB-GYN, or weren’t sure how to get contraceptives without health insurance.
During her recent shifts in Jackson, she had been careful to explain that Roe could soon be overturned, forcing the Pink House to close. But many people who came to the clinic didn’t know that.
Now, Hamlin was afraid for the women of Mississippi.
“They’ll either have to be under the radar and go to another state or they’ll have to somehow get pills,” she said. “Sometimes they’ll need medical care but they’ll be afraid to get it. Some people won’t be able to get access. They’ll continue a pregnancy that they won’t be able to afford or physically continue. And I have no doubt that women having miscarriages, and it’s going to be mostly poor and women of color, are going to be scrutinized for their miscarriages, because there’s no way to tell the difference.”
The doctor said she hopes the ruling will energize supporters of abortion rights. She wants to see the right to abortion restored across the country.
“It took them 50 years to overturn it,” she said. “I don’t want it to take 50 years again, because I won’t be alive.”