Sarah Valliere moved back to her home state of Texas earlier this year to provide abortions, and about a month later, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Now that abortion is banned in the state, she travels to provide care in New Mexico and Arizona—and she’s had patients travel as long as 15 hours by car to see her. In New Mexico, the majority of the patients she sees have also traveled from Texas. Both parties are traveling for care that used to happen in their communities, and sometimes the patients’ pregnancies have become life-threatening.
“The patients who travel out [of state], they are all desperate. They all chose to make that trip for a reason,” Valliere told Jezebel. “They find ways to make it work and they show up, and so do I, because this is really important.”
Today, she protested at the U.S. Capitol building with more than 50 abortion providers from 14 states, including five that have almost totally banned abortion: Georgia, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas (though Ohio’s six-week ban is currently blocked). Doctors, nurses, and medical students rallied in scrubs and white coats, holding signs that read, “Let healthcare providers do their jobs.”
The action was organized by the Doctors for Abortion Access campaign to highlight the risks to patients and providers when states criminalize abortion. (And since abortion procedures are used for miscarriage management, these laws also affect wanted pregnancies.) The physicians are calling on lawmakers to restore federal protections for abortion rights.
“I want to make sure that the nation remembers that abortion is essential and normal healthcare and we as providers want to do what’s in the best interest for our patients,” Valliere told me. “We truly feel like our hands are being tied with a kind of invasion of politics into our jobs. We’re all here in solidarity to say, ‘Let us do our jobs, let us do no harm to our patients and continue to provide this really necessary care.’”
She said at the rally that she’s shared multiple flights with Texans the state is forcing her to care for elsewhere. “Most recently, I was seatmates with a 16-year-old girl flying to Albuquerque. This girl was my patient in Dallas just a few weeks earlier. She was pregnant as a result of rape by a close family member,” Valliere said. “Not only was I unable to provide this life-changing service for her [in Texas], but I also wasn’t even able to advise her on how to obtain an abortion.“
The group Abortion Access Front live-streamed the event on Instagram:
Lorenzo González, national president of The Committee of Interns and Residents, the largest labor union of physicians in the country, was also at the event. “Soon after the decision, we began to hear horrifying stories. Stories of women and people who can get pregnant left on the brink of death as hospitals refused to allow doctors to provide lifesaving care until a lawyer was consulted. And stories of doctors potentially facing criminal charges and prosecution for providing the care their patients need,” González said. “What has this come to? What kind of impossible choice is this? To not help our patients or face criminal proceedings?”
As OB/GYN Heather Irobunda told Jezebel last week, “If I or one of my colleagues get arrested and put in jail, that’s one less person who can provide not only abortion care, but the full spectrum of reproductive health care. We can’t just all get thrown into jail.” Irobunda is a co-founder of Obstetricians for Reproductive Justice who also attended today’s event.
As Valliere’s experience and that of other providers proves, banning abortion doesn’t stop abortions. She said, “Abortion is normal and essential healthcare, and politics can change how we receive this healthcare, but abortion is never going to go away.”