Greater than 100 individuals have been attending weekly anti-abortion prayer vigils exterior the positioning of a future Casper, Wyoming, clinic providing abortion and different well being care providers. (Arielle Zionts / KHN)
Abortion rights supporter Rikki Hayes demonstrates close to the positioning of a Wellspring Well being Entry clinic due to open this summer season. Hayes was amongst a cluster of protesters attending a weekly prayer vigil held by abortion opponents. (Arielle Zionts / KHN)

CASPER, Wyo. — A modest, tan constructing sandwiched between a fuel station and a small house home close to this Western metropolis’s downtown has develop into an sudden point of interest of America’s abortion debate, simply weeks earlier than Wyoming might outlaw the process.

Inside, a nonprofit is renovating the area right into a clinic that, starting in June, could be the one one in Wyoming to present procedural abortions. The Casper clinic additionally would develop into the closest choice for individuals in what the nonprofit’s founders describe as an “abortion desert,” extending into western Nebraska and South Dakota.

Exterior, on a current Thursday, greater than 100 abortion opponents gathered for a prayer vigil on the sidewalk alongside a busy five-lane avenue. A smaller group of vocal abortion rights advocates assembled close by.

The protest teams congregate weekly as work to open the clinic continues, regardless of an imminent U.S. Supreme Court docket choice anticipated to reverse constitutional protections for abortion rights supplied by the landmark 1973 case Roe v. Wade. A not too long ago handed “set off legislation” in Wyoming would take impact days after such a ruling, banning most abortions in the state.

Teenagers, younger adults, mother and father with babies, and seniors silently held indicators emblazoned with Bible verses or slogans, equivalent to “Abortion hurts ladies,” through the current vigil.

One man walked by the group yelling anti-religious slogans, whereas a bunch of teenagers took a much less confrontational method to counter the vigil’s message by chanting “My physique, my selection.”

A number of drivers passing by honked in assist of the anti-abortion group or yelled expletives and, “It’s my physique!”

The opposing teams of demonstrators don’t see eye to eye on a lot, however they appeared to agree on one factor: They’re shocked the clinic is opening in Wyoming, an overwhelmingly Republican state the place 70% of voters supported Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election — the very best share of any state.

“I by no means thought I might see an abortion clinic come to Wyoming, not to mention Casper, simply because it’s extra conservative,” 39-year-old Robin Holmes mentioned through the vigil.

Holmes wore a customized T-shirt and held a selfmade poster, each saying “Unborn Lives Matter.” She mentioned her daughter grew to become pregnant in her teenagers however determined in opposition to abortion and is now elevating the kid.

Rikki Hayes, who helps the brand new clinic, discovered a chunk of cardboard on her means to the vigil and held it up after writing “Thoughts your personal enterprise!”

“I didn’t suppose in one million years that we, in Casper, would ever get one. We’re in Wyoming,” mentioned Hayes, a 21-year-old espresso store supervisor.

The long run web site of the Wellspring Wyoming Well being Entry clinic is a residential-style constructing sandwiched between a fuel station and a small house home close to downtown Casper, Wyoming.(Arielle Zionts / KHN)

The concept to open a clinic in Casper got here from Wyoming activist Christine Lichtenfels. She shared her suggestion with Julie Burkhart, a Colorado resident and veteran of the nationwide abortion rights motion

The one different Wyoming clinic providing abortions is in Jackson, a five-hour drive west of Casper and close to the Idaho border. It gives solely medicine abortions up to 10 weeks of gestation.

“I simply thought, ‘Gosh, why can’t we get one thing in Casper?’ It’s the proper location, just about in the middle,” Lichtenfels mentioned.

Burkhart agreed and based the nonprofit Wellspring Health Access in Could 2021 to open the clinic and plan different initiatives aimed toward increasing entry to abortion. Lichtenfels is an legal professional and board member of Chelsea’s Fund, a nonprofit that gives monetary help for Wyoming residents searching for abortions. She mentioned taking a day or extra to journey to an appointment creates logistical and monetary burdens for many individuals.

“You’ve gotten a job, possibly you’ve received youngsters, so that you’ve received to discover child care,” Lichtenfels mentioned. “Perhaps you don’t have an amazing automobile, possibly you don’t have a automobile. Or possibly the roads are closed.”

Casper, with a inhabitants of about 59,000, is a three- or four-hour drive north or south from the closest clinics — one in Billings, Montana, and one other in Fort Collins, Colorado. It’s additionally comparatively shut to areas of neighboring states with out abortion providers.

Some individuals in western South Dakota searching for abortions now drive 5 hours to clinics in Montana or Colorado. In the event that they keep inside South Dakota, they have to journey 4 hours to Sioux Falls, the place they face a three-day ready interval.

When organizers started planning the clinic, Wyoming had fewer abortion restrictions than many different Republican-controlled states.

Wyoming permits abortion up to viability (about 24 weeks) and has no ban on telemedicine abortions. It has no mandated ready interval, doesn’t require docs to learn particular info to sufferers, and doesn’t require sufferers to view an ultrasound. Nonetheless, the state remained largely devoid of abortion providers.

Then, in March, Wyoming grew to become the 13th state to pass a “trigger law.” The legislation would make abortions unlawful 5 days after Roe v. Wade is overturned, with exceptions in instances of pregnancies involving rape, incest, or danger to the mom’s life.

Comparable legal guidelines are on the books in Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Utah. Coverage watchers count on Montana and Nebraska lawmakers additionally will pursue abortion bans. Which means many individuals from this area would want to drive or fly to different states for abortion providers if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

It doesn’t matter what the U.S. Supreme Court docket decides, the general public debate will proceed in Wyoming, either side say.

Burkhart mentioned authorized challenges might gradual Wyoming’s set off legislation from taking impact. Even when the state outlaws abortion, she hopes the clinic will keep open to provide its different providers, equivalent to gynecology, testing for sexually transmitted infections, household planning, and gender-affirming look after LGBTQ+ sufferers.

She additionally expects Wellspring Well being Entry will discover methods to assist individuals in states with abortion bans discover providers in neighboring states, together with opening clinics close to state borders or bringing cell clinics or telemedicine providers to these areas.

Burkhart mentioned it could even be doable to carry cell clinics into states with abortion bans, to display, prep, and enroll individuals for out-of-state appointments.

Native anti-abortion activists say that even when Wyoming bans abortion, their marketing campaign received’t finish. Bob Brechtel is a Republican former state legislator who helps set up the weekly prayer vigils exterior the Casper clinic.

“Rule of legislation is vital, however what’s extra vital is that we do have people who find themselves accepting and understanding of our function to defend human life in any respect phases,” he mentioned.

Arielle Zionts: [email protected], @Ajzionts