Reproductive and abortion clinics to open in Carbondale

September 16, 2022

Near the end of September and early October, Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services and CHOICES Center for Reproductive Health plan to open in Carbondale.

As the Supreme Court was deliberating over Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health this past summer, these clinics made the plan to relocate to Carbondale to continue giving safe abortions legally.

Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services was originally located in Texas and Oklahoma, two of the first states to put bans on abortions. CHOICES is relocating from Memphis, Tennessee, which had a “trigger” ban following the most recent Supreme Court decision. 

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The CEO of CHOICES, Jennifer Pepper, said, despite some protests, the Carbondale community has been mostly positive towards her and her clinic moving to town.

“We started working to build relationships with folks late last year, and have really been pleased with the warmth and the wellness that we’ve experienced from the Carbondale community,” Pepper said. “I think people really understand. It’s not hard to understand the gravity of what’s happening.”

Pepper said CHOICES performed its last abortion two weeks ago, after 48 years of serving the Memphis community. Along with abortion services, it offers a wide range of reproductive services.

“Abortion access is a critical component of what we do, but, you know, we also will be offering gender-affirming care for folks, family planning services, basic wellness services,” Pepper said. “For us, it’s really about serving the community as a health asset.”

With Carbondale being located in a rural area, Pepper said, she’s grateful to give these services where they’re usually not given.

“We really hope that our presence helps increase access to services that are needed in the community,” Pepper said. “So that folks in the area don’t have to travel as far to access really critical and important health care for them.”

The Memphis clinic will be staying open to the public with its operating birthing center, Pepper said.

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“We know that our community in Memphis and around Memphis needs us now more than ever to provide all the other services that we provide,” Pepper said. “We are really, I think, proud is the right word, to be able to continue to serve our Memphis community, but to also pivot and innovate and open a second clinic in order to keep some level of abortion access.”

The executive administrator of Alamo Women’s Reprodictove Services, Andrea Gallegos, said being in one of the first states to pass bans on abortions, she saw services disappearing first-hand.

“It went from starting in September of 2021 in Texas, when the drastic legislation went into effect with SB8, and slowly we’ve seen access deteriorate across the country,” Gallegos said. “So we really lived what a post-Roe country was going to look like.”

Gallegos said, overall, Carbondale has been a welcoming environment and a refreshing one, compared to the more conservative environments of Texas and Oklahoma.

“Something that, as an abortion clinic, and whether you’re in a friendly state or an unfriendly state, there’s always anti’s and they find you wherever,” Gallegos said. “I haven’t experienced that yet [here]. And in fact, it’s been really refreshing to know that, you know, Illinois is gonna allow us to be a state where we can just provide health care.”

The reasoning for relocation to Carbondale is because there’s not much access to abortions in Southern Illinois and it’s important to still be available to the bordering states that no longer have access to these services, Gallegos said.

“I think it’s important to know that, you know, these bans don’t stop abortion. Abortion will always be needed and will always exist,” Gallegos said. “Unfortunately, these bans just add additional burden.”

Gallegos said a lot of providers from abortion-banning states had to choose to either relocate or close down, which is a big decision. Since she had the opportunity to relocate, she made sure to make it happen.

Both women spoke at a Sept. 6 event in Morris Library’s Guyon Auditorium about the state of reproductive care in the United States

The event was sponsored by Southern Illinois University’s  Young Demorcrat Socialist of America (SIU YDSA), Rainbow Cafe, University Honors and the Southern Illinois Reproductive Justice Network (SIRJN).

In her speech, Pepper said, when she heard that the Supreme Court would be considering Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, she knew abortion would be at stake and started looking at the Carbondale area as soon as possible.

We have hired people all local to Carbondale. They were beginning to work with us, some of them have already begun to work with us, others are beginning this week, Pepper said. “We will train them and support them and we will also listen to them when they say what this clinic needs and what this community needs.”

Gallegos spoke about her father’s time as an OBGYN and how, after not being able to save a patient from an illegal abortion, he knew the importance of making sure people had access to safe abortions.

She said she’s surprised that geography has become a disadvantage to bodily autonomy.

“I believe that we can come back together and it may take time, but we can do something even better than Roe,” Gallegos said. “I think one of one of the biggest issues that we’ve always had with the topic of abortion is, you know, most people don’t even want to speak the word. Abortion, abortion, abortion, it’s normal. We need to normalize it. It’s healthcare and it takes everyone doing that.”

Of course, there will always be people in the community that will object to them relocating because of their stance on the topic. Some protestors are already standing vigil at the planned sites with signs saying “babies will be murdered here.”

City Council member Adam Loos said there have been people from outside of Carbondale that have come to council meetings to voice their concerns on the clinics opening down here.

“My feeling was that their comments in many cases, not in all cases, amounted to veiled threats,” Loos said. “In those instances, I have pushed back pretty vigorously against that.”

Loos said the addition of the clinic will be a positive one, but the circumstances of why they’re coming are not ideal.

“If the court had not overturned Roe v. Wade, then these clinics would not have to leave,” Loos said. “I think that Carbondale would benefit from having at least one abortion provider, but you know, it’s not ideal, I think, for people to have to travel the way they’re going to have to travel.”

Loos said, the “Forced Birth movement” is an act of violence and has been for a long part of America’s history, but as for this area, the clinics are in a predominantly safe environment.

“No matter how popular, you will always be able to find some sliver of people who are opposed to it,” Loos said. “That’s true of this, but the community in Carbondale was overwhelmingly supportive.”

Staff reporter Jamilah Lewis can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @jamilahlewis. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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