Over 800,000 readers this year!

Wyoming will soon be down to one clinic offering abortions

The Women’s Health & Family Care clinic in Jackson will close its doors Dec. 15 because of financial strain.

A sign hanging on the front door of the Women's Health and Family Care clinic next to St. John's Health informs patients that the practice is shutting down permanently on Dec. 15. Its physicians will continue to provide care at other locations. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

by Madelyn Beck, WyoFile

One of the two Wyoming clinics offering elective abortions will close in December.

State lawmakers have been trying to restrict abortions here for years, but financial strain — including the rising costs of labor, supplies and rent — finally forced the closure, instead, according to a letter sent to patients.

Wyoming’s two abortion ban laws have been stymied in court so far, but the lost clinic will limit access to women in need of abortion care in the region nonetheless. 

“It’s just so sad,” said Dr. Giovannina Anthony, one of the healthcare providers working at the Women’s Health & Family Care clinic. “We’ve been open for 30 years, and we’ve all been in the community for a long time. And to let it go has been really, really hard.”

The income, however, wasn’t enough to cover rising costs, she said. 

“Since early in 2023, things weren’t looking good, and we weren’t sure how that would progress through the year,” Anthony said. 

By October, she said, it became clear that the clinic couldn’t remain open. 

As KHOL first reported, the monthly rent alone has increased to $9,400. Beyond that, OB-GYNs have some of the highest malpractice insurance rates and costs compared to what the practices can charge.

A letter sent to the clinic’s patients cites “financial difficulties” as the primary reason for the closure and says who to contact to get more information about future appointments. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

A woman running another OB-GYN clinic offering abortions in Bozeman, Montana, closed her doors last year, also citing costs as a major factor. 

The Jackson clinic is sending letters to patients, including the many who utilized its OB-GYN care in a landscape where services are becoming harder to find.

“Fortunately, our doctors plan to stay in the community and continue their medical practices,” the letter states. “Starting February 1st, Dr. [Laura] Vignaroli and Dr. [Katie] Noyes will be at St. John’s Family Medicine.”

St. John’s Health was not able to confirm whether the two doctors will be able to offer abortion services given Wyoming’s tenuous legal environment, but may “look at that question more closely” when the legality of abortions becomes more clear, according to Karen Connelly, spokesperson for St. Johns Health. 

Meanwhile, Anthony and Dr. Doug George plan to continue care for patients elsewhere in the community. 

“My plan right now is to open some sort of small gynecology and women’s health practice,” she said. “So I’ll be continuing to practice. I just have to work on a format that works for me and my family.”

The clinic is slated to close Dec. 15 — the day after a major court hearing in the case over Wyoming’s two abortion bans.

Anthony said the clinic’s closure will not affect her participation as a plaintiff in the lawsuit over those bans — the enforcement of which has been stalled as the case works its way through the legal system.

Reactions

After Dec. 15, the only remaining clinic to offer abortions in Wyoming will be Wellspring Health Access in Casper. It opened in April — after an arson-related delay — and is already the only clinic in Wyoming offering surgical abortions.

“We are saddened to hear the news that the Women’s Health and Family Care Clinic is closing its doors,” Julie Burkhart, president of Wellspring Health Access, said in a statement. “Patients deserve access to safe, legal abortion care in their communities, and the loss of this provider will make it even more onerous to patients from across the region.”

Wellspring is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging Wyoming’s abortion bans. 

“We are sorry to see the clinic close; the doctors and staff have provided skilled, compassionate abortion care to so many in need. We are very grateful for their long service.” Chelsea’s Fund Executive Director Christine Lichtenfels told WyoFile. “We want to remind all that medication abortion services remain available in Wyoming: Just The Pill and Aid Access provide telehealth medication services.”

Jackson OB-GYN Dr. Giovannina Anthony, center, listens to oral arguments from Wyoming Special Assistant Attorney General Jay Jerde during a hearing in Ninth District Court on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, in Jackson. (Bradly J. Boner/WyoFile/Jackson Hole News&Guide/pool)

Just The Pill has been providing online access to abortion-inducing pills to patients in Minnesota, Colorado, Montana and Wyoming since 2020. 

“We only found out about the closing of the clinic through a news story, but we are ready to absorb any patients needing abortion care,” Dr. Julie Amaon, medical director at Just the Pill, wrote in an email. “It is a shame that Wyoming is losing a trusted provider of full spectrum obstetrics and gynecology care, including abortion.”

One of Wyoming’s abortion bans would make medication used to induce abortions illegal — a first-of-its-kind ban in the nation. While that law is on hold, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case involving the legality of federal approvals for mifepristone, a specific type of medication often used with another pill to induce abortion. 

Meantime the gap left for women seeking non-abortion-related OB-GYN services in Wyoming may be harder to close. For example, the communities of Rawlins and Kemmerer have both lost their maternity wards in recent years. An upcoming WyoFile investigation will soon explore the issue in greater depth.

By the numbers

The last four years of abortion data in Wyoming show that the number of reported abortions at clinics and doctor’s offices has increased, though rules requiring that reporting are only a few years old. In chronological order starting in 2019, the number of annual abortions reported in the state were 31, 91, 103 and 200 last year.

The actual number of women in Wyoming who received abortions is likely much higher. Amaon told the Casper Star-Tribune this summer that Just the Pill served more than 400 patients in Wyoming in 2022 alone.

The lobby of the Women’s Health and Family Care Clinic, located next to St. John’s Health. It’s closing its doors because of rising costs of rent, labor and supplies. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

The number of out-of-staters seeking abortions in Wyoming has also increased, reaching 36% of reported abortions last year. Several surrounding states — like Idaho and South Dakota — have banned most abortions. 

With the dearth of clinics across much of Wyoming, however, hundreds of residents also seek elective abortions in places like Montana and Colorado.

According to Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, 240 Wyoming residents traveled to their Colorado clinics for abortions in just the last 12 months. 

Wyoming’s one Planned Parenthood clinic closed in 2017, also due to financial strains. 

The remaining out-of-state clinics are a long drive away for many in Wyoming, especially during the winter. Chelsea’s Fund offers resources to Wyomingites who need to travel for abortions, as does Planned Parenthood via the Wyoming Abortion Fund.


This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.


Back

Related