COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) – Columbus Women’s Health Organization and Seneca Choices for Life sit side by side on Rosemont Drive, but as pregnant women seek care, what goes on inside those buildings is staunchly different.
The Supreme Court’s recent ruling overturning Roe v. Wade means individual states now decide on whether to allow abortions. The outcome is expected to lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states across the country, including Georgia.
For pregnant women in Georgia, currently, abortions are illegal after 22 weeks, with certain exceptions. The two Columbus facilities have two different approaches to treating pregnant women.
Columbus Women’s Health Organization is an abortion clinic. The owner of the clinic, Diane Derzis, also owns Jackson Women’s Health in Mississippi.
If the name sounds familiar — that’s the clinic at the center of the case that overturned Roe.
In Georgia, abortion care is still accessible. House Bill 481, which essentially bans abortions at six weeks, still remains on hold.
Just across the Chattahoochee River in Alabama, abortion access ended as soon as Roe was overturned. This means Alabama women seeking abortions would have to cross state lines for the procedure.
WFXR’s sister station, WRBL, reached out to Columbus Women’s Health Organization but they did not want to give a statement.
However, according to Georgia Public Broadcasting, Derzis said, “My phones are ringing off the hook. There’s no help in the state of Alabama and they need an appointment. Now.”
The Columbus clinic is part of the National Abortion Federation, which is a professional association of abortion providers. The private physicians office has licensed OB/GYNs and specializes in the Abortion Pill, also known as medication abortion. They sell abortion pills to women up to 11 weeks pregnant.
The clinic used to perform surgical abortions. Meghan, whose last name we have withheld for her safety, walked into the clinic four years ago for the procedure.
“At that point I had two kids,” Meghan said. “I was overwhelmed as it was. There didn’t seem to be a lot of options. I guess I was waiting for a sign is what I kept telling myself at the time. I was waiting to see if there was some magical force that was going to step in. I didn’t get it.”
Women showing up for their appointments are advised to ignore protesters when entering the building. Meghan says while booking her appointment, she was told that patients are not allowed to bring in materials they received in the parking lot.
According to Meghan, she also wasn’t allowed to talk to the other patients.
“It’s really small,” Meghan said. “It’s 40 women and it’s dead silence. No one’s allowed to talk. They tell you you’re not allowed to talk. And so when you’re in that decision it’s incredibly isolating.”
Women looking to terminate a pregnancy have to pay in full the day of their appointment. According to the clinic’s website, the cost for an abortion is $600, though it does say they offer financial assistance.
Just a few feet away from the abortion clinic is Seneca Choices for Life. Though the two buildings share a parking lot, they share different beliefs.
Seneca Choices for Life is a pregnancy center. Pregnancy centers are not abortion providers. As their website says, their mission is to “make abortion unthinkable through prayer, intervention and prevention.”
“We are transparent with mothers,” Executive Director Amber Snipes said. “We do tell them we’re not an abortion facility, but we are here to empower you. We do believe you have a choice. You have more than one choice. At the abortion facility there’s only one choice.”
Seneca is a donation-funded Christian ministry. As you walk through their building, quotes line the walls saying, “every child is a story yet to be told” and “before you were born I set you apart.”
Snipes says the ministry offers “spiritual and emotional support, mom support groups, and goal setting.” A boutique of baby clothes and supplies sits at the front of the building, available for mothers who agree to work with what are called “case managers” throughout their pregnancies and after.
“A lot of the moms we work with are single moms,” Snipes said. “So we want to see them be able to provide for their children. We believe the best way to really be able to provide is to get gainful employment and to really accomplish their dreams with education.”
The Seneca team is also led by Medical Director Dr. Curtis Clark, a physician who practices family and hospital medicine. He’s a doctor of osteopathic medicine, which is different from an M.D. These doctors focus on the body as a whole – they tend to have what’s described as a more holistic approach to treating a patient.
Dr. Clark is a volunteer for the pregnancy clinic. His patient care includes free ultrasounds and what Seneca refers to as “abortion pill reversals.”
This procedure, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, is unproven. Studies so far have not been supervised by an institutional review board or an ethical review committee.
Though the center is led by a medical professional, it isn’t a licensed healthcare facility. Most crisis pregnancy centers are faith-based organizations and aren’t bound by the same laws as medical clinics.
With this in mind, women are encouraged to heed medical advice from their doctor. According to the Cleveland Clinic, regular appointments with a healthcare provider throughout a pregnancy are important to ensure the health of mother and baby.
The close proximity between Columbus Women’s Health Organization and Seneca Choices for Life isn’t a coincidence.
Seneca moved in next door to the abortion clinic seven years ago. The pregnancy center’s brochure says “financially giving to the ministry empowers Seneca to say YES to pregnant mothers who arrive for their abortion appointments in need, driving business away from the abortion facility.”
They have a mural on the side of their building in line of sight to women heading into the abortion clinic. It reads in part, “you have the power to choose life.”
Sometimes they change someone’s mind. Other times, the relationship forms after.
“Anybody who’s had an abortion, we welcome them here to find healing,” Snipes said. “We know that women are struggling. We are the first people to offer that healing when they leave the abortion facility.”
That was the case for Meghan. For Meghan that relationship formed a month after her abortion.
There had been complications with her surgery. Her abortion was incomplete.
“When they told me there was no heartbeat and they told me that it looked like there’s still genetic material from the abortion, I lost it,” Meghan said. “I was hysterical. Poor Monica, she was with me for at least three hours. So I was like ‘God hates me. God is punishing me.’ Like this is what I get. This is what happens. I didn’t have any medical insurance or anything at the time. So Monica actually got me medical insurance and she got me lined up with Valley Health Care immediately.”
Meghan continued her relationship with Seneca from that moment on. Today she’s healthy. She graduated, works as an accountant and is getting married.
On June 24, outrage and celebration erupted across the country. For Meghan, the issue is complex.
“I think I identify more pro-choice just because I do think that government should not have control over women’s bodies,” Meghan said. “I do think it’s our decision. But I wouldn’t recommend it at all by any means. But at the same time I do think abortions would be a lot less if you would let the women know that there’s so much more community behind her.”
As the country remains divided over reproductive rights, the two buildings on Rosemont Drive reflect the sentiments of the American people: standing firmly in their beliefs, finding it a challenge to find common ground.