48 Hours on the Abortion Hotline After “Roe” Fell

48 Hours on the Abortion Hotline After “Roe” Fell

48 Hours on the Abortion Hotline After Roe Fell

By Friday afternoon, nine states were enforcing total bans on abortion. The volunteers who connect people seeking abortion to resources heard a wave of desperation from callers.


Less than three hours after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Elyssa Klann sat down at her kitchen table, her phone plugged into the wall, two laptops open in front of her. Klann is a psychologist who has volunteered for the All-Options Talkline for seven years, supporting callers who are making decisions about their pregnancies and connecting them to resources when they ask for them.

Today was different.

Klann scrambled to comprehend the map of abortion access as it shifted in real time on her laptop screen. Callers in states hostile to abortion rights wanted to know if they could still go to their abortion appointments. Klann wasn’t sure. She checked the guide on abortionfinder.org.

“I could tell they were updating states as I was watching,” Klann said.

Klann knew that 13 states have trigger laws designed to ban abortion once Roe fell, but not all of the laws went into effect right away. What’s more, the National Network of Abortion Funds website that Klann uses to direct callers to funding assistance had crashed under an “unprecedented, massive spike in traffic.”

Klann felt the clock ticking as she responded to callers on the line. “I need to have these resources for people because they might have only access to this for another day or another week or another few weeks,” she thought.

Klann is part of a network of grassroots activists who are now mobilizing to meet a moment for which they’ve been preparing for years. By Friday afternoon, nine states, including Alabama, Arkansas, and Kentucky, were enforcing trigger bans, according to the Guttmacher Institute. In Texas, where Attorney General Ken Paxton warned that prosecutors could now enforce the state’s pre-Roe abortion bans, staff told patients sitting in clinic waiting rooms that they would have to remain pregnant. The patients wept, screamed, and begged for help. It was “complete despair,” a San Antonio clinic administrator told the news site The 19th. (On Tuesday, the total ban in Texas was temporarily blocked by a judge, though the ban on abortions after six weeks in the state remains in effect.) Callers began flooding the lines of clinics in states like Kansas to say their appointments in surrounding states were canceled. In North Dakota, the owner of the state’s only remaining clinic wiped away tears. She’s planning to move her facility to Minnesota. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of outraged donors reacting to the fall of Roe poured millions of dollars into abortion funds and practical support organizations that have been creating the infrastructure needed to move as many patients as possible to states where abortion remains legal.

The All-Options Talkline was designed to provide a buffer from chaos like this. Their mission is to offer judgment-free support to people in all of their decisions and feelings, whether they’re leaning toward parenting, abortion, or adoption.

“This is a place where we try to take away a lot of that noise so that [callers] can really talk and listen to themselves,” Paulina Guerrero, national programs manager for All-Options, told The Nation.

The way that most people experience abortion can be wildly out of step with the black-and-white framing of the public debate surrounding it. All-Options offers a space for people to air the full complexity of their emotions.

“The fundamental principle is that the caller has the answer,” Guerrero said.

On Friday morning, during a shift that coincided with the Supreme Court decision, Cindy Luquin put that principle into action. For over an hour, she listened as a caller in a Southern state who had already secured the necessary financial aid for an abortion let out all of the feelings they had around their parenting decisions and recent decision to leave an abusive partner. The call came in about an hour after the ruling that changed the landscape of abortion access forever. The caller never mentioned it.

That didn’t surprise Luquin. Even before Roe fell, a lot of callers were in “survival mode,” unable to take in news that didn’t have a direct impact on their immediate plans. She tried to convey to the caller what she tells everyone with a history of domestic violence: “I have a lot of respect for you. I don’t know if everybody’s ever told you that in your life, but I have respect for you.”

Everything had changed. But in some ways, it all felt the same.

Another All-Options volunteer, Denise Johnson May, suddenly realized while on a phone call with The Nation Friday that she would need to modify the line she’s used to console callers grappling with the wrenching difficulty of pregnancy decision-making for years: “I’m so grateful that we have the choice, because our grandmothers didn’t have the choice.”

“What am I going to say now?” she said. “I hadn’t even thought about that.”

Even before Friday’s Supreme Court decision, some advocates on the talkline had noticed a rise in anxiety and desperation from callers who have been impacted by financial hardship and the baby formula shortage.

“Lately, it’s been feeling more and more like I’m just powerless,” one advocate, Lulu Feingold, said.

Feingold had recently counseled a woman who had ordered abortion pills via the Internet but was terrified to take them. She wanted to go to a clinic, but the wait in her area was several weeks.

On Saturday morning, the day after the Supreme Court decision, Karen Thurston, a grandmother who has had two abortions herself, sat down next to a pitcher of water, just like she did at the start of every shift on the talkline. After a restless night spent cycling through anger, fear, and sadness, it felt harder today to set her own emotions aside. Other than that, the shift didn’t feel all that different, she told The Nation.

“When the ruling came down, I think the general public felt a sense of shock and urgency,” Thurston wrote in an e-mail after her shift ended.

“But shock and urgency are the norm for our callers who have been thrust into pregnancy emergencies and suddenly find themselves trying to figure out a mountain of things all while the clock ticks loudly,” she wrote.

As the weekend wore on, protests surged across the country. Grassroots abortion funds in states like Florida tried to get the word out that their clinics were still open, for now. In Alabama, where abortion is now banned, staff at West Alabama Women’s Center hunched over desks, calling to cancel patients who were scheduled to come in the following week. In the Midwest, people who needed help with travel and logistics inundated the Midwest Access Coalition, so that the coalition’s Alison Dreith began her day Monday with more messages waiting for her than she had ever seen.

On Sunday morning, Tanvi Gurazada woke up, made coffee, and nestled into her couch for her shift. The first call to come in was from someone who needed funding assistance—a call that could have come on any other day. The second was a caller in the throes of making her decision who had come up against a wall of misinformation and fear.

“She was leaning towards having an abortion, but she didn’t have any information about where she would get an abortion, and all she had heard was that now abortion was illegal in the United States, which is not really accurate,” Gurazada said.

Gurazada checked the latest information she could find online, and reassured the caller that in her state, abortion was still protected, for now.

Next came a call from a woman in Florida who was experiencing a miscarriage and was too frightened to go to an emergency room, because she thought that now that Roe was gone, she might go to jail. What if doctors suspected her of self-managing an abortion?

Gurazada checked again. She reassured the woman that she could get medical care without running afoul of any law. Abortion was still legal in Florida, for now.

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