Women at Vestal abortion clinic remain resolved in their work after Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade

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Peg Johnston, Southern Tier Women's Health Services founder, wears a shirt with "1973" written on the front. Roe v. Wade was decided that year, making abortion legal nationwide. Johnston stands with Susan Siebold-Simpson (middle), the clinic's executive director, and Alisha Kinsley (left), who they referred to as the "next generation of abortion care." (Sarah Gager/WSKG)

There was a big response by Americans when news broke about the Supreme Court’s decision to effectively overturn abortion protection nationwide. Many took to the streets to express their discontent. Women at an abortion clinic in Vestal said they are sad about the ruling, but not scared. They feel resolved to continue their work.

Peg Johnston, founder of the Southern Tier Women’s Health Services [STWHS], said she opened the clinic in 1981 to support patients.

“We take so much inspiration by witnessing their courage,” said Johnston. “Sometimes they don’t feel courageous, but they are because they’re standing up to a lot of prejudice to get what they need for themselves and their families.”

According to Johnston, the clinic has served a couple of patients from Texas. That state and 20 others immediately banned or restricted abortion following the court’s decision, affecting more than 100 million Americans.

“We anticipate that people will find us if they need us,” Johnston added.

The clinic serves patients from Cooperstown to Elmira, and from the North Country into Northern Pennsylvania. Because Vestal, where the clinic is located, is along the state boarder, and PA law requires a 24-hour waiting period, Johnston said they see many people from the state.

“Once people have made that decision, nobody wants to wait.”

Johnston said they are watching Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race very carefully. The anti-abortion Republican candidate called the court’s decision a “triumph”, and although the majority of state residents do not support it, a total ban remains a possibility if Doug Mastriano is elected.

Containers of the medication used to end an early pregnancy sit on a table inside a Planned Parenthood clinic, Oct. 29, 2021, in Fairview Heights, Ill. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

“Abortion is safer than carrying a pregnancy to term,” said Sue Siebold-Simpson, nurse practitioner and STWHS executive director. A study published by the National Library of Medicine found the risk of death is approximately 14 times higher in association with childbirth than with abortion.

“Abortion is one level of health care along with contraception, along with primary and preventive care,” Siebold-Simpson added.

The clinic sees approximately a thousand patients a year for abortion services, that’s according to Siebold-Simpson. About 30% have abortion by medication, an option for terminating a pregnancy in the first trimester. For now, the clinic can perform abortions up to 16 weeks from the start of the patient’s last period, but they will soon expand to 20 weeks.

“We’ve made that move to up to 20 weeks to ensure that all women have access to care,” Siebold-Simpson said. “[The court’s ruling] is going to cause women to have to find additional funds to travel, to set up child care for their families at home—because we know that most women who are having abortion, have families at home.”

The logistics of traveling for an abortion means many will have to delay the procedure. Siebold-Simpson said ideally, they want to see patients prior to 13 weeks from the first day of their last period.

“While abortion later in pregnancy remains very safe,” explained Siebold-Simpson, “as you move later in the pregnancy, it does take more time.”

According to the World Health Organization [WHO], in the absence of “safe, timely, affordable, geographically reachable, respectful and non-discriminatory abortion”, people take unsafe measures to terminate pregnancy. Complications of an unsafe abortion include hemorrhage, infection, uterine perforation, damage to the genital tract and internal organs, and an incomplete abortion.

WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 24: Abortion-rights activist react after the announcement to the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24, 2022 in Washington, DC. The Court’s decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health overturns the landmark 50-year-old Roe v Wade case and erases a federal right to an abortion. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

WHO includes comprehensive abortion care in the organization’s list of essential health care services.

“Inaccessibility of quality abortion care risks violating a range of human rights of women and girls, including the right to life; the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; the right to benefit from scientific progress and its realization; the right to decide freely and responsibly on the number, spacing and timing of children; and the right to be free from torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment,” WHO said on its website.

By Friday evening after Roe v. Wade was overturned, the STWHS Patient Access Fund had received around $17,000 in donations. Johnston and Siebold-Simpson said the money goes toward assisting patients with the cost of travel and child care, and to defer the cost of the abortion when it is not covered by insurance.

Although there is concern in some parts of the U.S. that an influx of out-of-state patients may cause wait times at clinics in states which allow abortion, the women at STWHS say they have capacity to accept more patients and “stand ready to help women wherever they come from.”