BUZZ: Risky Business

By on September 27, 2017

Photo by WoodleyWonderworks via Flickr Creative Commons

Wyoming’s abortion providers fight back against threats, crazy religious bullshit, and most importantly, misinformation

Clinic bombings, picket lines and threats to life and safety — these are just some of the hurdles abortion providers in the state of Wyoming and across the nation face to provide women safe, legal access to reproductive medicine.

It’s common knowledge at this point that Wyoming offers limited options to women who want or need an abortion. According to Wyoming Women for Women, a nonprofit that helps women find funding for abortion treatment, Jackson is home to the only two abortion providers in the state.

Abortion is a risky business in a red state, and Dr. Brent Blue is the only physician in all of Wyoming that provides surgical abortions. He’s paid the price to do so.

His clinic was bombed in 1993. It was at night, and luckily no one was inside, but the incident shut his operation down for weeks. He’s had paint thrown in his car parked in the driveway at his home, received more death threats than he can count, 3 am phone calls.

“All that sort of stuff,” he says, as if it were as common as a traffic jam at rush hour.

As if it weren’t already hard enough for Dr. Blue and the one other provider in Wyoming to provide access to safe abortions, legislators made it even harder earlier this year when they passed two new laws restricting abortion—the first such restrictions in 28 years. The laws took effect in July.

Laws like these will only make it harder to receive women’s healthcare, according to Dr. Blue, and for no good reason.
“There’s a tremendous amount of misinformation,” Dr. Blue said.

The first law requires physicians to offer women a chance to see an ultrasound of the fetus and listen to the fetal heartbeat.

“In our office, if they wanna see the ultrasound, all they gotta do is turn their head to the right,” Dr. Blue said.
Besides, he added, at 12 weeks (the point to which Blue will provide a surgical abortion), a fetus is “only about the size of a lima bean.”

Most terminations occur at around six weeks, according to Dr. Blue, at which point “it’s so tiny you can barely see it.”

The second law makes it a federal offense to use fetal tissue for science or experimentation.

That law, Blue said, is based on a “bullshit ideas someone put together about Planned Parenthood. They ended up getting indicted. No one has ever sold fetal parts, the passage of that bill was just stupid.”

Indeed, such laws are based on debunked accusations from anti-choice organizations that Planned Parenthood was selling aborted fetal tissue.

“That never happened,” Dr. Blue said.

The fabricated videos, which first surfaced in 2016 and purported to show Planned Parenthood representatives discussing the sale of fetal tissue and parts, have been widely debunked.

The allegations were investigated by more than a dozen states, none of which found evidence supporting the claims, and the two anti-choice activists who recorded the videos found themselves in hot water, facing felony charges in California over illegally recording the subjects in the video without permission.

Still, the debunked videos created enough public rage that Planned Parenthood funding has been in jeopardy ever since.Wyoming’s sole Planned Parenthood in Casper shut down July 21, and it didn’t even provide abortions.

But the fetal tissue law is more insidious than it seems, says local obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Giovannini Anthony.

“This is the way anti-abortion people chip away at your rights,” Antony said at a screening of “Trapped,” a documentary about reproductive rights, hosted by Women for Women.

Such a law scares physicians away from all sorts of medially relevant practices—say, for example, an In Vitro patient discovers their pregnancy isn’t viable, and they want to examine that tissue. The implications of such a law, Dr. Anthony said, are broader than people, and lawmakers, realize.

But the threats have not deterred Dr. Blue’s practice—“probably foolishly,” he said. “I don’t think that as a provider I’m gonna be intimidated by people who are anti-choice and basically anti-woman,” said Dr. Blue.

Providing terminations is just part of the job, Dr. Blue said. Abortions are less than one half of percent of his practice, but they are essential to it.

“We provide full-service family practice,” Dr. Blue said. “Pregnancy termination is just part of being a family physician.”

Approximately 70 percent of Wyoming women cross state lines for pregnancy terminations, Dr. Anthony estimates. They drive to Denver or Fort Collins, where Planned Parenthood is available and affordable.

But those in the western part of the state, and in eastern Idaho, often opt for a three-hour drive to Jackson instead of an eight-hour drive to Colorado.

Dr. Blue sees patients from Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Lander, Rock Springs “and every place in between.”

Terminations are expensive—a medical abortion, or the abortion pill, costs at least $600, and a surgical abortion is upwards of $1,000. Weigh that with the extra travel costs and time off work, and it’s a daunting undertaking. The decision often comes down to whether it is less daunting than carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term, and then providing for a child.

Funds are available through Women for Women and Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, but the costs are still high.

“Nobody should have to drive for three hours to get healthcare,” Dr. Blue said. “Especially when there’s healthcare in the area. It doesn’t make sense.”

Dr. Blue is highly critical of anti-abortion lawmakers, protesters, and individuals.

They are not “pro-life,” he says. There is no such thing. Instead, “there’s anti-choice.”

“Pro-lifers don’t start bombing places,” he said.

They also don’t threaten doctors—whose job it is to keep people alive—with their lives.

“It’s crazy religious bullshit is what it is,” he said. “What if it was a rape? Is the father gonna pay for the pregnancy?”

Blue suspects not. He also suspects that such a debate wouldn’t even exist if men could get pregnant.

“We don’t tell men when to have vasectomy’s, there’s such a double standard,” he said.

Besides, Dr. Blue said, even in a conservative state, choice in an inherently Wyoming value. When anti-choice protesters from Kansas paid Jackson a visit in 2011, even local “pro-life” organizations told them to buzz off.

“In Jackson, you can disagree with somebody, but you don’t tell them what to do,” Blue said. PJH

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