Update 5/12/22: A Planned Parenthood spokesperson said abortion services had resumed at its Georgia clinics on May 9. Abortion is still unavailable at its Alabama health centers, but independent clinics remain open.
Planned Parenthood quietly stopped scheduling abortions in April at its clinics in Georgia and Alabama and canceled some existing appointments, due to what it said were staffing issues at its Southeast affiliate. The organization said the change is temporary, but did not say when it would resume care. In the meantime, the clinics are referring people to other providers.
“We have elected to scale back some of our services across the affiliate while we onboard new staff at our health centers and at the executive level,” the spokesperson said in response to questions from Jezebel. “This is a temporary change, and we expect to again be operating at full capacity by the end of the month.” There are two days left in the month and it does not appear that abortions will resume in that time frame.
Robin Marty, director of operations at West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa, told Jezebel in a statement that WAWC has been trying to cope in recent weeks with an influx of patients after Planned Parenthood canceled their appointments.
“The Deep South is one of the most difficult regions to find a provider to work in, and we understand how very lucky we are to have someone local to provide abortions five days a week. This discontinuation of abortion services has definitely impacted our own staff—who have already been working extra hours to meet the influx of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas patients—and are now adding these patients who have had their previously booked Planned Parenthood appointments canceled on them,” Marty said. “My clinic staff are exhausted. They are anxious. But they also remain completely committed to our mission: making sure every person can obtain a legal abortion for as long as the courts allow.”
The reduction in available clinics comes amid a worsening abortion access crisis across the South, with Texas patients unable to get care after six weeks in their home state traveling to other states including Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Potentially exacerbating the situation, the Supreme Court could issue its decision in a case that could overturn Roe v. Wade anytime between now and the end of June, when the current term ends. The Guttmacher Institute classifies Georgia and Alabama as two of the 22 states certain to ban abortion if Roe falls, so PPSE has about two months to resume abortion care before that ticking bomb goes off.
Planned Parenthood did not announce that abortions were halted in these two states—it apparently just cancelled people’s appointments without warning. Before the pause in services, PP had at least three clinics that provided abortions in Georgia and two in Alabama. (Reuters published a story yesterday profiling a traveling abortion provider who worked in the Birmingham, Alabama, Planned Parenthood, but the reporter shadowed the provider in March.)
A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Southeast, the affiliate covering Georgia and Alabama, also confirmed Thursday that abortion care was still unavailable in both states and provided no timeline for it to resume. “Abortion care is critical, and access is under threat in the south like never before,” they told Jezebel. “PPSE continues to offer essential sexual and reproductive health services at our health centers across the affiliate, and we look forward to resuming abortion services in Georgia and Alabama as soon as possible.”
Planned Parenthood may have more name recognition, but independent clinics like WAWC provide close to sixty percent of abortions done in the U.S. Independent clinics are also more likely than Planned Parenthoods to offer both medication and procedural abortions and abortions later in pregnancy. Following decades of targeted restrictions on abortion providers, indies are the only clinics left in four states—Mississippi, North Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
Earlier this week, Planned Parenthood announced a $16 million media campaign on the national abortion access crisis and the formation of a news content team—and last month billionaire philanthropist Mackenzie Scott donated a record $275 million to the national federation and 21 of its affiliates, of which PPSE was not one. While the national federation and affiliates are separate legal entities with separate funding, these announcements still don’t look great as the organization claims one of its affiliates is unable to serve individual patients in areas with dwindling access.
Update 4/29/22, 10am: This story has been updated to include more information on Planned Parenthood’s affiliate structure and information about Mackenzie Scott’s donation.