With the Supreme Court’s June reversal of Roe v. Wade, the decision that legalized abortion nationwide, existing state bans and restrictions went back into effect. Though Michigan, too, has an abortion ban on the books, courts have so far stayed its enforcement. That’s made Michigan a destination for women seeking to end their pregnancies legally.
“They’re coming from Ohio and Kentucky and Missouri,” says Wallett. “All of those places have either no access or really significant restrictions.”
Planned Parenthood has two clinics in Ann Arbor, one near Washtenaw and Huron Pkwy. and the other on W. Stadium Blvd. The east-side center provides “both in-clinic and medication abortions five days a week,” says Wallett, while the west-side one provides medication abortions as well as “birth control, sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, well-person visits—sort of all of the other things that bring people to Planned Parenthood.”
Wallett says she’s seeing more patients than ever before who come to Ann Arbor for abortions, “leave the health center and have to drive right back hours home to take care of their kids or get back to their job …
“It’s not that patients aren’t safe to go home. [But] it’s so sad to think that that they can’t just go home and rest on their couch and watch Netflix. They have to drive home three hours before they can do that. Their journey isn’t done.”
In July, Planned Parenthood of Michigan CEO Paula Thornton-Greear told BridgeMI.com that abortion appointments “are booking out anywhere from three to four weeks” to accommodate the influx. Citing a survey by researchers at Middlebury College, Michigan’s nonprofit news source reported that “15 of Michigan’s 25 clinics surveyed reported wait times had increased, including four clinics that now had wait times of 21 work days; effectively, more than a month’s delay when weekends are factored in.”
“Our wait times are averaging two to three weeks, which isn’t great,” Wallett says. “Abortion is a time-sensitive thing. People want abortions early in pregnancy. Although abortion is safe no matter when you get it, it’s always better to get it sooner.
“So we are busy. We are trying to increase capacity as much as we can by adding appointments, and cross-training staff, and doing all of the things that we need to do to get there. But it’s going to take some time to meet all of the demand—and to figure out what that demand is.”
Interviewed just before a court ruling in mid-August, Wallett was expecting another flood of calls from women worried about whether abortion would remain accessible. “Right when Roe was overturned, we were seeing a lot of stress in our patients and people really expressing fear” about that, she says. “Now I would say more often than not, I’m just seeing gratitude—people just being really grateful that we’re still open, still providing care; that they could make it.”
In August, the court granted a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the 1931 ban. So abortion will remain legal for at least a few more months while that case is decided.
That decision will determine whether Michigan remains an abortion refuge—or whether providers here, too, will have to begin sending patients to other states.