There will soon only be one abortion provider in Wyoming.
The Women’s Health and Family Care clinic in Jackson has recently announced it’s closing its doors because of financial difficulties and rising costs.
“With the rising cost of overhead, including rent, labor and supplies, our private practice is no longer sustainable,” reads a letter announcing the closure shared with Cowboy State Daily by Jackson Hole Community Radio.
The clinic, which has been in Jackson for more than 30 years, will close Dec. 15, leaving the Wellspring Health Access clinic in Casper as the only facility in the state where a woman can have an abortion. Women’s Health only performs chemical abortions, while Wellspring provides both chemical and procedural abortions.
“Wellspring Health Access is now the only abortion provider in the state of Wyoming, and we know the stakes of remaining open and accessible to the patients who need us,” said Julie Burkhart, president of Wellspring, in a statement. “We’ve been the only procedural abortion clinic since opening April this year, but now we will have the added burden of being the only bricks-and-mortar medication abortion provider in Wyoming as well.”
Women’s Health also offers other services besides abortions, including obstetrics, gynecology, pediatric care, acute care and men’s health.
The closure of the Jackson clinic comes only months after another local OB/GYN shut down, which was located in the same building as the women’s clinic.
The Jackson clinic rents its space from St. John’s Health hospital.
An office manager for the clinic told Jackson Hole Radio the clinic had its rent raised by $1,100 per month from $8,300 to $9,400.
Karen Connelly, chief communications officer at St. John’s, confirmed that the hospital raised its rent on Women’s Health as a result of increasing real estate prices in Jackson. She said the federal Stark Law requires the hospital to offer fair market prices to all independent providers that lease from it so that the hospital doesn't provide free services to physicians.
“The law is just to protect patients,” she said. “The hospital isn’t permitted to give anything of value free to physicians because it risks that we would be potentially perceived as buying referrals from those physicians.”
Connelly said it’s not the hospital’s role to take questions of politics or morality into account when determining rent it charges for its facilities.
Abortion is still fully legal in Wyoming as the state’s three abortion bans are blocked in the courts.
Women’s Health and Family Care was the only abortion provider in Wyoming from 2021 until this April after Teton County Coroner Brent Blue, who offered abortion services, stepped down from St. John’s.
Women’s Health primarily serves women in western Wyoming and eastern Idaho, the latter a state that has banned abortions.
Blue told Cowboy State Daily there’s always been a shortage of women's health providers in Wyoming.
“It’s going to significantly reduce the availability of women’s health care in the county,” Blue said of the closure. “It’s a shame to lose two good providers.”
He said the closure will make it more difficult for women with fewer resources to travel to get abortions.
“It will most affect women on the lower socioeconomic scale and people of color,” Blue said, which he equated to a form of racism.
Not Going Away Entirely
In its letter, Women’s Health says it plans to continue offering services at new locations in 2024.
“Fortunately, our doctors plan to stay in the community and continue their medical practices,” the letter reads.
Connelly said that two of the facility’s physicians will move to St. John’s Health to practice family medicine.
“We have come to an agreement with them that we’d like to have them join our family medicine clinic,” she said.
Additionally, two other physicians, including Dr. Giovannina Anthony, plan to remain in the community and continue offering health services, which Connelly cited as “good news.”
Anthony, an OB-GYN at the Women’s Health Center, is in many ways the face of Wyoming’s pro-choice abortion movement. She is one of a number of pro-choice plaintiffs involved in a lawsuit challenging a state law prohibiting most forms of abortion in Wyoming.
The letter announcing the closure says Anthony will “continue practicing gynecology and women’s health in the next six to 12 months.”
Connelly said she isn’t sure whether the two family medicine providers coming to her facility will offer abortion services there. She said she isn’t aware of any practitioners at St. John’s now offering that procedure.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.