On June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Dobbs v. Jackson that abortion is not a right under the Constitution, overturning the precedent set by Roe v. Wade in 1973. Legislation on abortion is now solely up to individual states.
While the procedure remains legal in North Carolina to the point of fetal viability (roughly 24-26 weeks into pregnancy), many nearby states have either enacted stricter abortion laws or are expected to do so in the coming months. The Supreme Court’s decision has thus made Planned Parenthood’s Asheville Health Center, which provides abortions, an even more significant destination for reproductive health care in the Southeast.
As the sole abortion provider in Western North Carolina, the Asheville center will become the closest legal abortion destination for millions of people.
“Our Asheville health center, even before the Supreme Court decision, was already seeing people from out of state — folks from Tennessee, South Carolina, other neighboring states and even states far away,” says Molly Rivera, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic. “We only expect that influx to increase with this decision.”
She says Asheville’s clinic is trying to increase hours of operation and anticipates adding an another day when a physician can terminate pregnancies. Rivera also says the clinic is hiring more staff, including a patient navigator. This role will help patients locate the nearest and soonest abortion appointment available and connect them to resources for child care, housing and travel.
Through June 27, nine states, including Kentucky and Ohio, had put in place more restrictive abortion legislation following Dobbs. Barring legal challenges, an abortion ban in Tennessee will take effect Sunday, July 24. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a national nonprofit focused on sexual and reproductive health, 26 states are expected to ban abortion overall, including South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
Planned Parenthood’s Asheville facility provides surgical abortions, performed in the clinic, and medication abortions, during which the patient takes a combination of mifepristone and misoprostol pills. In North Carolina, a physician must be physically present when the first dose is administered; the patient takes the remaining pills at home.
Asheville’s clinic accepts Medicaid and private insurance plans for services like testing for sexually transmitted diseases, Pap smears and breast exams. But North Carolina’s Medicaid program only covers abortion in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment; this is also true for insurance plans offered on the state’s health exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act and policies provided for public employees. Additionally, private insurance plans aren’t required to offer abortion coverage.
The nonprofit Carolina Abortion Fund works directly with clinics to provide financial support to people who have scheduled an abortion appointment in North or South Carolina or who live in either state. (Nationwide, the mean cost of an abortion at 10 weeks is $550, according to the Guttmacher Institute.) More out-of-state patients coming to Asheville to terminate a pregnancy will likely cause more people to rely on those funds.
Xpress was unable to reach the CAF for comment.
‘Surprised or rattled’
Patients at Asheville’s Planned Parenthood are likely to encounter both anti-abortion protesters and abortion rights supporters outside the property, explains Ellen, who volunteers at the Asheville clinic as a patient greeter on the days it provides abortion services. (Xpress is using her middle name only due to credible safety threats clinic staff and volunteers have received.)
A patient greeter, also called a clinic escort, meets patients in the parking lot and escorts them inside the clinic. These volunteers, Ellen says, are meant to be a friendly face to counter anti-abortion protesters.
People other than staff, patient greeters, patients or companions of patients who enter the clinic’s property will receive a trespassing charge, Ellen says. She notes that anti-abortion protesters often stand on ladders or climb trees outside the property to yell at patients as they enter or exit cars.
Asheville city officials have affirmed that they will respond to potential security concerns at the clinic. On June 29, Asheville City Council issued a proclamation affirming reproductive freedom, an item not previously listed on the agenda for that evening’s meeting.
“One of the roles the city will and does play is supporting our Planned Parenthood here in Asheville, which you see frequently is the subject of a lot of demonstrations and activity happening around the property, which makes some folks feel unsafe and makes it difficult to manage operations,” said Mayor Esther Manheimer. “That’s an area where the city’s Police Department offers partnership in trying to provide security for that facility.”
In an email to Xpress, Asheville Police Department spokesperson Bill Davis wrote, “APD is maintaining a heightened sense of awareness of facilities within the city that may be targeted as a result of the recent Supreme Court decision. Also, APD remains in communication with staff as needed and will continue to be responsive to the needs of our community members.”
Patient greeters place numerous signs leading to the clinic that indicate patients should continue driving along McDowell Street until they reach Planned Parenthood’s parking lot. Ellen warns that some anti-abortion protesters will stand alongside the road with a clipboard attempting to look like a clinic employee.
“Most [patients] are a combination of surprised or rattled” by the protesters, Ellen says. “Most patients coming in are not feeling one way or the other about the abortion debate or the news — they’re just trying to get to their doctor.”