Casper, Wyo. – When organizers agreed earlier this year on a summer opening for a new women’s clinic in Wyoming, they were optimistic about their plans, despite knowing they would face opposition to the only such clinic that will offer abortions in the state .
There were the expected protests and harassing messages. Things got tense after a leaked draft US Supreme Court ruling was released that would likely make abortion illegal in Wyoming and half the states.
Then last week their building was damaged by a fire brigade that they believe was deliberately shut down.
None of this has dashed plans to open the clinic — a rarity in heavily Republican parts of the United States, where most abortion providers right now are just struggling to stay in business, let alone expand their services.
“We cannot be made to submit,” said Julie Burkhart, the clinic’s founder, as she watched from across the street as Casper police and firefighters investigated the blaze.
For years, Wyoming prided itself on its live-and-let-live western conservatism, which took a no-nonsense approach to defining social policies in government, including abortion. However, that is changing.
In March, Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, signed legislation making Wyoming one of the states that would ban abortion if the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Repeal Wade’s 1973 law that legalized abortion nationwide. The only exceptions would be rape or incest to save the mother’s life or to save the mother from serious non-mental health problems.
Gordon, who is running for re-election this year, has not made abortion and other culture war issues a feature of his campaigns or tenure. But a recent legal shift in both the Supreme Court and state legislatures has made abortion a problem in Wyoming.
The planned clinic bucks this trend in the strongest terms.
Her supporters include Riata Little Walker, a Casper resident who spoke out in support of the clinic at a recent rally. In an interview, Little Walker described herself as pro-life until two years ago, fetal heart and chromosomal abnormalities that doctors said would likely result in a miscarriage prompted her to have an abortion five months into her pregnancy.
Had she not been able to get an abortion at a Colorado hospital, Little Walker might have faced a traumatic miscarriage at home.
“Not all aborted babies are unwanted,” Little Walker said. “This has to be available to people when they need it, even if they wanted their baby and they’re going to have to make the toughest decision a parent can make.”
Your opinion is unlikely to be the majority opinion in Casper, a working-class town of 58,000 that is Wyoming’s second-largest city after the capital, Cheyenne.
Known as the “Oil City,” Casper has a long history as a center for oil drilling and ranching, with more recent activities in uranium mining and wind energy. The city sprawls at the base of Casper Mountain with a skyline dominated by a 175-foot-tall 1960s concrete spire.
After the fire at the clinic, a minister and supporter of the clinic, Rev. Leslie Kee of the local Unitarian Universalist Church, urged everyone to be tolerant.
“All this does is fan the flames of division and fear and helplessness and feel like things are getting out of hand,” Kee said. “Someone has to stand up and call for calm, love and peace. That comes from the human heart.”
No one was injured in the fire, the stucco home being renovated for the clinic shows broken windows and smoke damage. Authorities are investigating whether the fire is linked to a person who was seen running away from the building, appearing to be carrying a gas canister and a bag.
After assessing the damage, Burkhart said she expects the originally planned opening in mid-June to be delayed by “at least several weeks”.
Burkhart has previously faced terrifying odds against opening abortion clinics.
She worked closely with Dr. George Tiller, an abortion doctor from Wichita, Kansas who was murdered at the church in 2009. Four years after his assassination, Burkhart helped reopen Tiller’s clinic.
The Wichita clinic, similar to the one planned in Casper, allowed women to have abortions without having to travel hundreds of miles to other cities and states.
Colorado, that codified the right to abortion into state law in April, has long been the top destination for abortions for many women in Wyoming.
“Colorado was everyone’s salvation,” said a Casper woman who was aborted in Boulder in 1989 at the age of 17 in a foster family in a small Wyoming town.
She declined to be identified, citing concerns about her safety and employment prospects, which were shared by her daughter, a Casper woman, who 20 years later, at age 21, went to Colorado to study for to obtain the medication required for her own abortion.
While abortions have continued in Wyoming — according to state figures, there were 98 in the state last year and 91 the year before — Only a few medical service providers perform regular abortions. The state does not keep track of who the providers are and they rarely publicize their services.
The Casper Clinic will be far more open, with services that include women’s, family planning, and gender-affirming health care in addition to abortions. It will help fill a void left when the city’s proposed no-abortion parenting clinic closed in 2017 for financial reasons.
An outspoken local opponent of the clinic, RossScriptman, expressed disappointment at the fire. Still, he said everyone should be against abortion, noting that the goal isn’t necessarily to make abortion illegal, but “unthinkable.”
“I don’t have a uterus. But I have a heart, a mind, and a First Amendment. And I have every right to speak out about what I think about an issue,” saidschriftman, a member of the Jewish Pro-Life Foundation.
Little Walker said her abortion was both heartbreaking and beautiful.
At Denver Hospital, Little Walker and her husband Ian were allowed to hold their daughter, whom they named Riana, after her death. They keep their memories in a box with items including their ashes in a heart-shaped container, casts of their tiny hands and feet, and a baby blanket.
“I feel like sharing her story and helping people understand that abortion is a lot bigger than propaganda would have us believe is Riana’s legacy. It’s a lot more complicated. It’s very, very grey. And it can happen to anyone,” Little Walker said.
“When you’re in a difficult situation, you just want a choice.”
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https://www.local10.com/news/national/2022/05/29/fire-looming-ruling-dont-stop-new-wyoming-abortion-clinic/ Fire and a looming judgment can’t stop Wyoming’s new abortion clinic