This as-told-to essay is part of a short series exploring abortion access in Illinois, which is preparing to become an abortion ‘island’ as surrounding states have banned or have signaled that they will ban abortions in the wake of the end of Roe v. Wade.
The second installment in our series, Dispatches From an Abortion Island, is based on an interview with Amy Redd-Greiner, head of front office operations at Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Illinois.
Last week was the greatest shift in patient demographics because we are finally seeing the heaviest influx of the post-Roe scheduling. In 2019, when the biggest restrictions in Missouri came down, that really was a dry run for the clinic in terms of being aware of how an abortion ban would impact patient volume.
Previously, most of our patients actually came from Missouri. But now we have more patients from outside of Missouri and Illinois than within Missouri and Illinois. And for the first time, we saw a huge influx from the South: Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, even Louisiana, and Mississippi. Of course, this means those folks are driving hundreds of miles to access this care that should be readily available to them in their own neighborhood.
In addition to high patient volume, we’re seeing an exceptional call volume. We received 100 calls in that hour after Roe fell. From the moment that the phones come on until the moment that they are turned off, they virtually don’t stop ringing. We are absolutely doing our level best to meet it, but it is one of the greatest challenges that we are facing right now, without question.
And at the other end of that phone, there is more fear, more uncertainty, more panic than we have had to deal with in the past.
Just this morning, someone reached out and said, “I’m afraid. Am I going to get arrested if I come to Illinois? I know that it’s legal there, but it’s not legal in my state. So will I get arrested when I come back? Will I …”
This was absolutely the goal of the Supreme Court decision. It has produced a terrible chilling effect. It is emotional manipulation at a terrible scale. We have to continue to reassure patients that abortion is and will remain legal in the state of Illinois, and that patients can travel here and seek care.
I’m rotating people on and off the phone so that they get a break from the panic. I’m thinking about what resiliency training looks like, trauma training. I’m thinking in terms and ways that we never really had to before, but trying to be as proactive of those things as possible. And just to be creative and understand that it is human beings in this building doing the work. We are not machines, we are not automated. And that we all have our own feelings and emotions around everything that’s happened. We have to be as respectful of that reality as possible.
Hiring is a critical component. Every team has been working on that. I hired two folks last week, I’m working on it today to hire some more. One of the folks that I hired last week only worked two days and then said that she felt like this wasn’t the right fit for her. And that is understandable, even under the best circumstances.
It’s challenging. Without question. Post-Roe has been the hardest period of my working life. I can’t speak for anyone else, but just for me personally, and feeling the weight of all of the emotional responsibility across the board, patients first and team second.
When Roe fell, we really did not have time to process the ruling. Now, of course, we all knew it was coming. We understood, we read the leak, and we knew what it meant. It wasn’t surprising, but it was still shocking. Suddenly we were citizens in a country that did not honor bodily autonomy. But no one really had time to process that shift because we immediately started doing the work. And we are continuing to do the work.
We have continued to process those feelings individually and collectively. One of my concerns in terms of my team’s mood and care is just the sensory nature. If you are working an eight-hour shift and your phone never stops ringing, and at the other end of it is someone who is scared, desperate, or uncertain, there are a lot of feelings to manage. And so we take that responsibility seriously to take care of our folks.
It’s hard, but I am enormously proud of not just my team, but every team, as well as the other managers in this building. History doesn’t ask you if you’re prepared to meet the moment, you just arrive and do your best.