Western Maryland abortion provider will open in ‘abortion desert’ as other states further restrict abortion access

This content was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

In the year since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal abortion protections, state legislatures have passed new laws to shape abortion access in their states.

While some states aimed to severely restrict access to abortions, states such as Maryland are seen as “access points” due to more lenient abortion laws. People who wish to terminate their pregnancies are likely to travel into the state for those services.

This dynamic is on display at a new clinic called the Women’s Health Clinic of Maryland, set to open in late June.

The new Maryland clinic is an extension of the Women’s Health Clinic of West Virginia, which had to stop performing abortions due to that state’s near total abortion ban that went into effect in September.

The new location is Cumberland, Maryland — just five miles from the border of West Virginia.

Katie Quinonez-Alonzo, soon-to-be executive director of the Maryland center and current director of the West Virginia center, believes that the new location will be able to provide abortions for those located in so-called “abortion deserts.”

“The decision to open Women’s Health Center of Maryland — we looked at the region of where abortion access is most likely to be protected over the long term. And Maryland was the nearest state where abortion seemed as though it would remain accessible to folks who needed the care,” she said.

Abortion ‘access point’

Quinonez-Alonzo said that the new clinic is going act as a “a regional access point for abortion care in central Appalachia.”

“The fact that the clinic is located in Western Maryland is very intentional, because those counties are located smack-dab in the middle of an absolute abortion desert,” she said. “If you look on the map of where the next nearest abortion clinics are, they are hours and hundreds of miles away.”

Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, state lawmakers have the authority to shape abortion laws, meaning that access to abortions vary wildly from state to state.

The Women’s Health Clinic of Maryland is set to open just days before additional abortion restrictions in other states will take effect.

For example, the GOP-led legislature in North Carolina overruled the governor’s veto of legislation that would prohibit abortions in the state past 12 weeks of pregnancy, according to State’s Newsroom affiliate NC Newsline.

That means that starting July 1, people from North Carolina may seek out Maryland and other less restrictive states for abortion services after 12 weeks. Currently, abortions are permitted up to 20 weeks in North Carolina, according to NC Newsline.

The Florida Legislature recently approved a six-week abortion ban that will also take effect on July 1, State’s Newsroom affiliate Florida Phoenix reported. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who this month launched a presidential bid, signed the six-week abortion ban back in April.

Some states, such as Maryland, have doubled down on efforts to protect access to abortions instead.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) recently signed into law a package of bills aimed at protecting abortion access for Marylanders and others, declaring the state a “safe haven” for those seeking abortions, Maryland Matters previously reported.

One of the recently signed bills will allow Maryland voters to decide whether to enshrine rights to “reproductive freedom” into the state Constitution.

The legislation does not explicitly say “abortion,” but the language does say that people have the “fundamental right to reproductive freedom,” including the right to prevent, continue, or end one’s pregnancy.

However, not all Marylanders are in support of the state’s wide-reaching abortion laws or efforts to expand abortion access.

Maryland Right to Life, an anti-abortion organization, said that Maryland lawmakers have passed laws to “establish Maryland as a national destination for abortion tourism” and urged Marylanders to oppose the ballot initiative.

Limited abortion access in Maryland

The new Women’s Health Clinic of Maryland will also serve state residents in the western panhandle, who may currently have to drive hours into the middle of the state in order to receive abortion services.

“Looking in Western Maryland, there already is a lack of reproductive health care options available for Mountain Marylanders.”

Most centers that provide abortions beyond access to medication in Maryland are located in the central parts of the state.

Before the new center opens its doors, the westernmost center in Maryland is in Frederick, about an hour west of Baltimore.

The easternmost center is a Planned Parenthood located in Annapolis. There does not appear to be a center offering in-clinic abortions on the east side of Chesapeake Bay.

Quinonez-Alonzo explained that pregnant people in rural communities also need access to abortion and reproductive health care, and there are consequences if people cannot receive abortion services.

“It impacts them negatively in an economic way. It makes it harder for them to provide for the children and their families that the already do have. It makes it harder for them to afford housing, to afford groceries. It makes them more likely to go into debt. It makes them more likely to file for bankruptcy,” she said.

“Being denied an abortion is not just being denied an abortion,” Quinonez-Alonzo continued. “It is being denied the ability to decide if, when, and how you grow your family and to make very important decisions about what your future, health and wellness will look like.”

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

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