Georgia abortion clinics say demand has surged amid legal limbo

In the week since constitutional protections for abortion were overturned, Planned Parenthood Southeast says it has fielded double the previous number of calls from people seeking abortions — except on some days, when the call volume tripled.

Clinics in Georgia face a new crush of demand sparked by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which left abortion to the states and triggered an immediate ban in neighboring Alabama.

The ruling also has pressured some here to make appointments quickly out of fear that Georgia’s “heartbeat” law, now tied up in court, could take effect and ban most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. A federal court is expected to rule on Georgia’s law in the coming weeks.

“We knew that this (Dobbs) ruling was coming, and so in anticipation of that, we have been working over the past several months to create an interstate network of support for patients,” said Lauren Frazier, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Southeast. “Right now, the volume for us is still manageable.”

Planned Parenthood operates three clinics in metro Atlanta and one in Savannah, as well as two in Alabama and one in Mississippi. The facilities offer other reproductive care, such as contraception and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, in addition to abortions at some locations.

Several other abortion providers operate in Georgia and Planned Parenthood Southeast is connecting some patients with branches in other states. The organization in March also hired a patient navigator who helps out-of-state abortion patients with travel, hotel, meals and child care resources, Frazier said.

Staff at Feminist Women’s Health Center in North Druid Hills have been inundated with calls since last week’s ruling from people trying to make appointments, get clarity on what the overturning of Roe v. Wade means for Georgia, or to give words of encouragement.

“I was answering the phones (Tuesday) and the entire time I was on one call, the phone was constantly beeping with other calls coming in,” said Lauren McEwen, spokeswoman for the center. McEwen said, until recently, she doesn’t typically man the clinic’s phones.

The clinic performs surgical abortions three days out of the week. As of now, staff say they’re able to schedule patients for appointments quickly, but the number of surgical abortions has jumped in recent days. On a typical day, providers at the Brookhaven clinic perform about 25 surgical abortions. On Tuesday, they performed 55. Many of those women were from other southern states such as Texas and Alabama.

Things have been busy at the center since last September, when Texas’ restrictive abortion law took effect.

“I think now people are just kind of in a frantic mode,” said Yenee Bekele, the clinic director, of the mood of patients since last Friday’s ruling.

Bekele said the patients she’s seen have not had an overly emotional reaction to the ruling, but she can tell they feel the time crunch.

Most of the clinic’s staffers and patients are women of color. In addition to abortion care, they provide gynecological services, prescribe birth control, offer testing for diseases spread through sex, and assist with gender transition.

“We have no intentions of closing and never have,” Executive Director Kwajelyn Jackson said. “When the six-week ban goes into effect in Georgia, we will do abortions up to six weeks.”

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

An office manager at Southeast Dekalb Gyn, a Decatur clinic that provides abortion procedures, said last week’s ruling brought an influx of additional appointments, an estimated “five additional cases per day, so far, anyway.”

She said the clinic will stay open and continue performing abortions, even as the definition of “legal” may change in Georgia.

”It’s so many more factors that go into it, with rape, incest and women not being able to carry due to health conditions,” added the manager, who asked that her name not be used.

Georgia’s abortion law would allow exemptions for women or girls who’ve become pregnant after rape or incest, if their lives are in danger, or if the fetus would not be able to survive after birth.

ExploreGeorgia anti-abortion law likely to remain on hold through at least mid-July

Clinic administrators said donations and volunteerism have increased in the first week since the Dobbs decision. The day of the ruling, about 400 people attended a bar crawl fundraiser in East Atlanta for Planned Parenthood Southeast, collecting $20,000 for the organization, Frazier said.

People who’ve had abortions but were reluctant to talk about them signed up for Planned Parenthood’s storytelling program after the Supreme Court ruling, Frazier said.

In Savannah, though, the only clinic that offered surgical abortions closed this week after operating for 40 years, the Savannah Morning News reported. Savannah Medical Clinic declined to comment to the newspaper.

Credit: Chris Day

Credit: Chris Day

In Forest Park, a 27-year-old woman came Wednesday to A Preferred Women’s Health Center for an abortion. She was met outside by three people carrying signs and shouting a number of things, including “Why did the baby have to die?” and, “Please let us help you.”

The woman’s husband, Steve, who declined to give a surname for privacy reasons, confronted the protesters on the sidewalk outside the clinic, arguing abortion was the couple’s right.

The woman, who asked to be identified by only her first initial, K, said the Supreme Court ruling made her anxious that Georgia’s restrictive law could take effect any time without warning.

“That pressure doesn’t give prospective moms time to make a decision,” she said.