My assignment was to illustrate a story about how blue states attracted an influx of abortion patients from neighboring red states to Roe vs. Wade was knocked over. So I was in New Mexico last Thursday when many thought the Supreme Court was going to make its decision.
I had emailed two clinics including the doctors who worked there. After many email exchanges, the Center for Reproductive Health at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque agreed to let me come. The doctors and staff welcomed me and gave me more access than I expected.
I arrived at 8am with Elizabeth Gibson, my escort from the university, who was waiting for me in the parking lot. I soon met a new family doctor and other medical staff.
What transpired that day and the next encapsulates the challenges of a photojournalist in such situations – how to portray reality accurately but compassionately, while maintaining some privacy for subjects in their most intimate and vulnerable moments.
Within minutes, I was able to photograph a 25-year-old patient during her ultrasound scan. Although she didn’t want her face to be shown, the photos are intimate and tell a story.
At 8:31 am my phone started vibrating.
I looked at the caller ID and there was our Houston office manager, Molly Hennessy-Fiske, on the line.
“I think I can take us to an abortion clinic in San Antonio, Texas tomorrow,” she said.
In a whispered tone I said, “We have to go.”
We didn’t know when the Supreme Court would render its verdict. Nothing was certain. I thought to myself how important and historic it would be to be in a clinic when the decision is made, especially in a red state.
I put my phone in my back pocket and quickly walked back to the staff work area, where I photographed the doctor and her assistant looking at an ultrasound of a 39-year-old woman wanting an abortion. The woman already had four children.
The woman agreed to let me photograph her procedure without revealing her identity. I entered the exam room, where soft 1980s music was playing from overhead speakers. The room was dark except for the small and bright light in the exam room.
I wanted to capture the mood of one light source, so I adjusted my camera’s ISO; that controls the amount of light coming in. I was in the back of the room. The angle did not reveal the woman’s identity.
The doctor and her resident worked together as a nurse who was assisted during the procedure.
“Are you all right?” the doctor asked the patient on the examination table. The woman confirmed this with a nod, yes.
At one point, the nurse held the patient’s hand and gently rubbed her head.
My Apple Watch started vibrating.
“I have to go soon,” said the text message from Gibson, my escort at the clinic. She waited outside the exam room.
“Do you mind if I stay in here 5 more minutes and maybe Angela can walk me out?” I texted back.
“Unfortunately, that’s not the policy. I need to be with you,” she replied
“Three more minutes, okay?”
I wanted to stay until the end of the woman’s procedure, but after 3 minutes I tiptoed out of the room.
“You don’t have to go in there!” They murder babies!”
— Activists begged women outside the clinic
I got into my rental car and drove to a shaded parking lot. I needed confirmation that I would be allowed to shoot at the Texas clinic the next morning — and figure out a way to get there that evening.
I left a voicemail for Andrea Gallegos, General Manager of the San Antonio clinic, and texted her.
I waited. Ten minutes passed.
Then came a text message from Andrea. After some back and forth, she agreed to let us come to the clinic first thing in the morning. I drove to the airport. That night it would take me six hours to get from Albuquerque to San Antonio.
When I arrived at the Alamo Women’s Reproductive Service at 9:00 am on Friday, patients were already lining up outside the door.
Protesters shouted through a megaphone on the sidewalk near the clinic.
“You don’t have to go in!” the activists begged the women. “They murder babies!”
Molly and I were escorted to a back office to see Dr. to meet Alan Braid, the owner of the clinic. Then at 9:13 everything changed.
Braid’s daughter, Gallegos, stuck her head in the door.
“It’s over. The decision has been made,” she said. “Full revolution.”
Braid cursed. Then he started tearing. I was able to snap a frame of Braid as the tears came. Then he looked at me sternly and said, “Come on!”
“The Supreme Court just overturned Roe vs. Wade. They have taken away your right to choose what you do with your body.”
— dr Alan Braid, clinic owner
I knew in that moment that I had to put my camera down. I wanted to capture his emotion in that moment, but at the same time I didn’t want to upset Braid and jeopardize my chances of staying longer in the clinic.
My mind raced. I had to go to the waiting room where the patients didn’t know what had just happened.
It was a delicate balance for me. I have promised the clinic management to respect patient confidentiality and not to photograph patients who have not given us permission to do so. Although this was a historic moment, I had to keep my promise.
On the way to the waiting room, I photographed a visibly upset employee.
Braid entered the waiting room with Gallegos at his side. When I photographed Braid from across the room, the patients bowed their heads in despair as he spoke.
“The Supreme Court just overturned Roe vs. Wade. They’ve taken away your right to choose what you do with your body,” he told the women.
“Unfortunately, my hands are tied,” Braid said, explaining the risks of challenging the law. “I can go to prison for life and be fined $100,000.”
The clinic could no longer provide abortion services.
I walked over to where I saw a patient sitting with a blank stare. I photographed them with my camera in silent mode. As she left the clinic, I followed her outside to get her name. She said I could use her first name, Liz.
As the stunned patients left the clinic early that morning, more rushed in, unaware that abortion is now illegal in Texas.
Patient April Reese, 41, arrived exactly one hour after the decision. She already has three children.
An emotional employee told her the news.
“So we have to leave the state?” Reese asked. “That’s crazy.”
Reese was about to leave when she realized the employee who had helped her was crying. She hugged the employee.
“You have done so much good work for the people. So keep that in your heart,” Reese said. “Don’t give up the fight.”
Another patient, also upset, sat in a chair in the waiting room and cried when a staff member tried to comfort her. I photographed them through the glass in the reception area.
Two hours after Roe was knocked over, the Alamo Women’s Reproductive Services waiting room was empty.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-06-27/inside-an-abortion-clinic-when-the-supreme-court-overturned-roe Inside an abortion clinic the moment Roe vs. Wade fell