(MENAFN) The Women's Health Center of Maryland in Cumberland is set to open in June, offering abortion services to patients across central Appalachia, a region known as an "abortion desert." Situated just 5 miles from conservative West Virginia, where state lawmakers recently passed a near-total abortion ban, the new clinic will be the only independent reproductive health care center in the area and the western-most provider of surgical and medical abortion and gender-affirming hormone therapy in Maryland. The facility is expected to be a more accessible option for patients in northern West Virginia, western Maryland, south central Pennsylvania, and Ohio, where an abortion ban is currently under injunction.
Independent abortion clinics provide most abortions in the U.S., especially for people with low incomes who live in isolated, rural states that restrict or ban abortions. The clinics are more likely to offer abortion after the first trimester and to provide both surgical and medication abortion options. However, dozens of independent clinics across the country have been forced to close their doors since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and in 14 states, there are no abortion clinics at all.
The Women's Health Center of West Virginia, the state's lone abortion clinic, was forced to stop procedures after legislators passed a ban with narrow exemptions. When West Virginia lawmakers passed their sweeping abortion ban, several members of the Republican majority said they hoped it would force the Women's Health Center of West Virginia to shut down. Republican Sen. Robert Karnes said he believed shuttering the center was "going to save a lot of babies," while Brandon Steele, a Republican in the state's House of Delegates, called abortion access "a scar" and "a curse" lawmakers had to "remove from this land." West Virginia patients seeking an abortion now have to take time off work, travel hundreds of miles, and pay for lodging and other accommodations.
The opening of the Women's Health Center of Maryland comes a year after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned federal abortion protections. The clinic will be the only provider of reproductive health care in the area and will offer a more accessible option for patients in need. The new clinic's executive director, Katie Quiñonez, also serves as the executive director of the Women's Health Center of West Virginia. She argues that the lack of abortion providers in the region is by design and that the Cumberland clinic will provide a much-needed service to patients in central Appalachia. Quiñonez also notes that independent clinics like this one provide crucial services for people with low incomes who live in rural areas, and that they are more likely to offer a range of options beyond just first-trimester abortions.
The opening of the Women's Health Center of Maryland highlights the ongoing debate over abortion access in the U.S. and the impact of recent legislative efforts to restrict or ban abortion. While some states have passed sweeping bans, others are working to expand access to reproductive health care. The situation in central Appalachia serves as a reminder that for many patients, accessing abortion care can be difficult and costly, especially in areas where there are few providers. The new clinic will provide a crucial service to patients in need and could potentially serve as a model for other clinics seeking to expand access to reproductive health care.
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