Georgia clinics see nearly as many patients as before stricter abortion law

Abortions have dropped by nearly half in Georgia, but Atlanta-area clinic remains busy
An ultrasound examination room at Atlanta Morning Center, a pregnancy center in Dunwoody whose mission is to end abortion that opened in January 2022 as a free option for low-income pregnant women or women who have limited or no access to health care seeking medical help. The center reports that it's still serving the same number of clients as before Roe v. Wade was overturned. While the number of abortions have dropped by nearly half in the state since the state's fetal cardiac law was allowed to take effect following last year's overturning of Rose, according to data from the Georgia Department of Public Health, some abortion clinics also say they remain nearly as busy as before. (Natrice Miller/natrice.com@ajc.com)

An ultrasound examination room at Atlanta Morning Center, a pregnancy center in Dunwoody whose mission is to end abortion that opened in January 2022 as a free option for low-income pregnant women or women who have limited or no access to health care seeking medical help. The center reports that it's still serving the same number of clients as before Roe v. Wade was overturned. While the number of abortions have dropped by nearly half in the state since the state's fetal cardiac law was allowed to take effect following last year's overturning of Rose, according to data from the Georgia Department of Public Health, some abortion clinics also say they remain nearly as busy as before. (Natrice Miller/natrice.com@ajc.com)

Despite a sharp drop-off in the number of abortions being performed since Georgia’s restrictive law took effect a year ago, business at the Feminist Women’s Health Center has remained steady.

The north Atlanta clinic has continued to offer abortions by medication or by surgery in what many in advocacy are calling a “post-Roe” world — meaning the time after the 49 1/2 years that the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade determined a constitutional right to abortion.

And business at Atlanta Morning Center, a Dunwoody pregnancy center with a mission of providing pre- and postnatal care that does not include abortion, has remained steady as well.

A little more than a year ago, the high court reversed Roe v. Wade when ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, allowing states to regulate abortion. Since then, Georgia and states across the South and Midwest have enacted laws either vastly limiting access to abortion or banning the procedure completely.

In Georgia, a federal court allowed a state law to take effect that bans most abortions once a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity, typically about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many know they are pregnant.

Since then, abortions have dropped by nearly half, according to data from the Georgia Department of Public Health. And abortions after six weeks of pregnancy have all but ended.

While the data may lead the average person to think that the number of patients at abortion clinics has dropped as well, establishments such as the Feminist Women’s Health Center and Atlanta Morning Center have remained relatively steady.

‘Determined’ to provide abortion services

During a recent Saturday at the Feminist Women’s Health Center, only one of the 23 patients who arrived for their scheduled abortions was turned away after the ultrasound technician detected fetal cardiac activity. She was six weeks and one day into her pregnancy.

Another woman changed her mind about getting the abortion and left. Staff said that rarely happens.

Bianca, an Atlanta woman who was among several loved ones who dropped patients off at the clinic that Saturday, said the nearly year-old law is unfair to women who want to make decisions about their bodies. The Atlanta Journal Constitution is not using the full names of patients or those who accompanied the patients to the clinic to protect the identities of those who had abortions that day.

“My friend was raped,” she said. “She didn’t have a choice. Who wants to raise a child that came from rape? ... They take away the right for us to make our own choice, then don’t offer any support after the child is here.”

Georgia law allows later abortions in cases of rape, incest, if the life of the woman is in danger or in instances of “medical futility,” when a fetus would not be able to survive. As of June 8, there have been 199 abortions performed after a doctor could detect fetal cardiac activity since the Georgia law took effect a year ago.

Kwajelyn Jackson, the clinic’s executive director, said that while her numbers dropped immediately after the Dobbs decision, the clinic is now performing between 55 and 60 abortions per week across the three days the procedure is offered, which is nearly as many as before the ruling.

The way the abortions are being performed has shifted over the past year. Feminist remains one of few abortion clinics that is an “ambulatory surgical center” allowed to perform surgical abortions

”We’re not fully at pre-Dobbs volume, but what we have seen is that people are making a way out of no way — and they’re persistent,” she said.

Jackson said the community has supported the center through volunteering and fundraising, allowing to pay off the mortgage and avoid employee layoffs or furloughs.

She and the clinic’s board are looking for ways to increase support to the staff.

“We are determined to not only retain employees but reward them for the work they do,” Jackson said. “We’re looking into a sabbatical policy for long-term staff and salary increases (for all employees). We want to make sure the people who make this care possible understand exactly how valuable and important they are.”

The clinic is continuing to explore expanding other services, such as offering tubal ligations or adding to the transgender treatment that is already being offered at the center.

Protesters also continue to stand outside with signs and amplifiers to try to persuade patients not to go through with their abortion. They don’t go unnoticed. Bianca said people getting abortions shouldn’t have to deal with the imagery of fetuses and the men walking up to cars as they pull into the parking lot.

“I shouldn’t have to deal with the people down here,” Bianca said. “They’re harassing people. They’re already making hard decisions, they shouldn’t have to deal with this. It’s ridiculous.”

Jason Cantrell, a Kathleen resident who travels to the clinic three times a week to discourage women from getting abortions, said he doesn’t see a difference in the number of cars flowing through the parking lot since before Georgia’s law took effect. He says he continues to show up because abortions continue to take place.

“We want to see lives saved, and we want to see souls saved,” he said. “The Bible says to love thy neighbor as yourself. These are my neighbors.”

But those at the clinic early that morning disagreed with Cantrell and the four other people who were protesting that day.

“Those guys say they’re doing the Lord’s work, but those people have no compassion or empathy,” said Chris, whose girlfriend was getting an abortion that day.

‘Physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual’

Atlanta Morning Center, the pregnancy center whose mission is to end abortion, opened in January 2022 as a free option for low-income pregnant women or women who have limited or no access to health care seeking medical help.

Daphne Harris Robinson, executive director at Atlanta Morning Center, said it provides care to about 10 pregnant women each month and about 75% are foreign-born. That number hasn’t changed since Roe v Wade was overturned.

Atlanta Morning Center is not a traditional crisis pregnancy center in that the women who become patients there usually already know they are pregnant and are seeking prenatal care. Traditional crisis centers, which have historically received criticism for not being upfront about their opposition to abortion when patients are seeking help, often refer women to Atlanta Morning Center.

Robinson’s husband, retired Dr. Haywood Robinson, said he’s aware that those who are pregnant and seeking an abortion may get confused and wind up at a pregnancy center. Pregnancy centers will often intentionally open close to an abortion clinic.

“It’s called the wrong door system,” he said. “Accidentally, there’s a client who thinks they’re walking into a facility that’s an abortion facility. All of these resource centers tell them, ‘no we do not provide abortions.’ But as soon as we tell them, ‘we do not do that, but if you would like, we can give you a free pregnancy test (and a) free ultrasound, 80% wind up taking the service from the pregnancy center.”

Atlanta Morning Center also differs in that it is a full medical clinic, with nurses and a doctor on staff. Traditional crisis centers often only offer pregnancy screening. Robinson, the executive director, said she is focused on making sure that mothers and babies are healthy in Georgia.

The center works with pregnant women until they are about 28 weeks along, when they’re transferred to a medical practice that offers labor and delivery care. Mothers can choose to return to the center for post-natal care.

“Georgia ranks last for maternal mortality,” Robinson said. “We’re in the bottom 10 for infant mortality, for low birth weight babies (and) uninsured women. All of these are areas where we’re ranking at the bottom. Being pro-life is so much more than not wanting a woman to have an abortion. We are concerned about the comprehensive health of the mother — physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual.”

About the Author