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When a bill to ban abortion clinics in the Beehive State receives Gov. Spencer Cox’s signature and goes into full effect at the beginning of 2024, the closest clinics to Salt Lake City would likely be six hours away in either Las Vegas or Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
But a California-based Planned Parenthood has been working since around the time of the U.S. Supreme Court’s leaked Dobbs decision last spring to bring abortion and health care access closer to the Wasatch Front.
Planned Parenthood Mar Monte’s proposal to build a clinic two hours away from the Crossroads of the West, however, is in limbo after the West Wendover City Council decided Tuesday night to reject a permit for the organization, and the mayor vetoed its vote.
After a 4-1 vote on a motion to deny the permit, Mayor Jasie Holm said, “We have been trying so hard to get the smallest bit of health care here.” Her veto was greeted with both shouts and applause from the crowd.
Her decision to exercise that power means the application is back to where it started, and could possibly come in front of the council again.
The organization that runs all but one of Utah’s abortion clinics — Planned Parenthood Association of Utah — is not involved in the proposal and has declined to comment on it.
The CEO of Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, Stacy Cross, told The Salt Lake Tribune that it began planning the clinic sometime late last spring — around the time a draft of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was published by Politico. The court’s final decision in June was nearly identical to the draft.
When that ruling came down, Utah’s abortion trigger ban went into effect. Under it, the only allowed abortions are for fatal fetal abnormalities, when the life of the mother is at risk or in cases of rape or incest. It was blocked by a Utah district court judge shortly after as the courts decide on the law’s constitutionality, and Utahns can now get an abortion up to 18 weeks.
Last week, though, Utah lawmakers passed a bill that would ban abortion clinics, pushing pregnant people in need of an abortion to facilities that meet the state’s definition of a hospital. That move is expected to limit access to abortion and narrow the situations in which a woman can obtain one.
Nevada allows abortion up to 24 weeks, and some doctors may provide one after that point if they decide it’s medically necessary. The state allows non-residents to access those services.
Utah’s abortion policies, Cross said, were “certainly something that we considered in our planning.”
Planned Parenthood Mar Monte covers around half of the counties in its home state of California, and three-quarters of the counties of Nevada. Its clinics, unlike many others tied to Planned Parenthood, offer full primary care, which includes a wider range of health services.
Those services would be valuable to a rural community like West Wendover, the organization says. With just one health clinic, residents often end up driving to Salt Lake City for care that isn’t provided nearby, or when they can’t get an appointment quickly enough.
Since the reversal of Roe v. Wade, Cross said that approximately one-third of abortion patients at Planned Parenthood Mar Monte’s clinics are people who have traveled because they cannot receive the care in their home states.
While Nevada and Utah had approximately the same rate of out-of-state visitors seeking an abortion during 2020 — the most recent year for which the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has published an abortion surveillance summary — the number of people traveling to Nevada for abortion is expected to increase as states throughout the Intermountain West impose further restrictions.
Prior to the city council meeting, Cross said Planned Parenthood Mar Monte has land ready for purchase, a building plan approved by an architect and a construction company that would bring it to life.
Under the application, the clinic would sit on a now-empty lot an approximate 2-mile drive over the border, around the corner from the Wendover Will Neon Cowboy.
Dozens of West Wendover residents debated the merits of having a Planned Parenthood in town for nearly two hours, and several Utah anti-abortion activists made the drive to weigh in, too.
Pastor Dennis Draves from the local Blessed Hope Church spoke for over 10 minutes against the clinic, focusing on its abortion services.
“If you destroy a rattlesnake egg, you can be prosecuted and spend time in jail because that is considered a rattlesnake,” Draves said. “I don’t understand in society why we’ve gotten to the point that (a fetus) is not a human being.”
The majority of others who voiced their opposition did so on similar grounds — a religious opposition to abortion.
Other residents told stories about how the lack of access to health care in their community — especially reproductive health care — has been difficult.
Fernando Cerros, of West Wendover, said his sister had an ovarian cyst that ruptured while their family was on vacation. She hadn’t sought care for the cyst beforehand, he said, because it was “incredibly inconvenient and incredibly expensive.”
A local high school teacher, Justin Evans, said he had to drive his wife to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Salt Lake City to get birth control after a local pharmacist would not fill her prescription.
Former city council member Kathy Durham sent a letter to the city council before the vote and spoke during public comment.
“I feel for the women in Utah and Idaho that now have less rights than the women that live in Nevada,” she said. “You know, this expansion of health care (includes) pap smears, birth control, eight months of prenatal care, menopause care — things I have to go 122 miles for, health care that none of you men need but every woman that you care about in your life needs.”
After the mayor’s veto of the city council’s decision to reject the application, it’s unclear what Planned Parenthood Mar Monte’s next steps are. A spokesperson for the organization did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.