Roe’s final hours at one of America’s largest abortion clinics

At seven o’clock Friday morning, Ivy turned on the lights at the Houston Women’s Clinic, the state’s largest provider of abortions, where she has worked as a supervisor for nearly two decades. Since May, when the Supreme Court’s draft decision leaked, revealing its conservative majority’s intention to overturn Roe v. Wade, Ivy, who is fifty-six and asked to be identified by nickname only, went to work every day knowing he might be her last. But neither the likely end of a woman’s right to abortion nor Texas’ onerous abortion regulations had changed her morning habits. Combing her hip-length graying hair into a bun and covering it with a black surgical cap, she sterilized all the syringes, counted the curettes one by one, and waited for her colleagues to arrive. Only Ivy’s message to her patients had changed. . Now every greeting had to come with a disclaimer.

A decision on Roe v. Wade was imminent and the procedure could be banned at any time, Ivy would warn pregnant women who came to reception, after the cursory hellos. On Friday, patients began arriving at eight a.m., after negotiating with picketers working the parking lot. “Let me see your ID, mijaIvy said to the first woman to reach the light-filled lobby, where a large fish tank whispered in the distance. The woman, dressed in black trousers and a gray hoodie, was given a patient number to protect her privacy. Only four weeks later, she, like the vast majority of morning patients, was coming in for her second of two visits. As required by Texas law, women must wait at least twenty-four hours after receiving documentation and an ultrasound that confirms their pregnancy. Now she was coming back hoping to have a second ultrasound and then the abortion. To the right of the desk where Ivy registered her was a framed proclamation, signed by the mayor of Houston, honoring the forty-fourth anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

That day, despite Ivy’s warnings, only a few women at reception seemed to register that their access to abortion was in jeopardy. The main concern was whether the ultrasound would determine that they were more than six weeks pregnant or had electrical activity in the fetal cells – possibilities which, following the passage of a state law last September, would mean they could not have an abortion in Texas and would need to seek treatment in another state.

One by one, women were called to the back of the clinic to receive their ultrasounds and counseling sessions, or to wait for the doctor, who had yet to appear. A row of stiff wooden chairs where they bided their time faced a framed photograph of the cerulean bay of Portofino. As the women stared at the Italian Village or their phones, a dozen anxious staff huddled at reception. One of the medical assistants placed her phone against a pile of patient files so her colleagues could see the Supreme Court’s schedule for the day. A nurse started braiding the receptionist’s colored hair. Ivy’s boss, Sheila, who runs the clinic, had been in contact with ACLU attorneys. She just sent me an article: “How to stop dating people who are not right for you”. “Someone shouted from another room, ‘Send it to me!’

Despite the tension, for the next hour the workers tried to focus on their particular responsibilities, including answering the phone, which rang constantly. The faster they worked, the more patients they could prepare to see the doctor, who would give eligible women pills to start a medical abortion or perform a surgical abortion. But at 9:11 a.m. A M, before the doctor walked through the door and the abortions began, Sheila heard from an ACLU attorney. “Roe, knocked down,” she said flatly. Ivy, walking out of the lab, hadn’t understood Sheila’s exact words, but she did when she saw her hands shaking.

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