CUMBERLAND — A new Allegany County clinic that will soon offer a variety of medical services, including abortion and sex-affirming hormone therapy, has received “overwhelming support from Mountain Marylanders,” said Katie Quinonez, the facility’s executive director.
The Women’s Health Center of Maryland will open in late June or early July and plans to hire about 10 people, she said.
“On day one, we will be offering medication and procedural abortion through the second trimester, as well as comprehensive birth control and (sexually transmitted diseases) testing and treatment,” Quinonez said via email.
“Our goal is to introduce additional services within the first six months, including annual exams, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and gender-confirming hormone care,” she said.
“We will provide a patient assistance fund to help people pay for abortion care and provide all preventive healthcare on a sliding scale to ensure these essential services are as accessible as possible, as we are committed to the health and well-being of this community ,” Quinonez said.
Health center officials have met with dozens of community members and leaders working in faith, local government, healthcare, harm reduction, intimate partner violence, racial justice, LGBTQIA+ resources and more, she said.
Those groups shared a common feeling, Quinonez said.
“This region needs more access to reproductive health care,” she said.
The center will be located in the former Mountainview Healthcare building, 17202 McMullen Highway.
The building, which spans more than 6,000 square feet, was in need of updates, including new flooring, drywall patches and paint throughout, Quinonez said.
“In addition, some construction was needed in the exam rooms,” she said.
Because the facility was already being used for health services, everything was in place for licensing purposes, Allegany County Administrator Jason M. Bennett said via email.
“From the county’s perspective, the health center has everything it needs to open,” he said.
Red against blue
The Women’s Health Center announced in March the nearly $700,000 purchase of the former Mountainview building, about five miles from the West Virginia border.
The news came after very conservative lawmakers in West Virginia passed a near-total ban on abortion.
Dozens of independent clinics across the country have been forced to close their doors since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
“At least 66 clinics in 15 states have stopped abortions since the decision,” according to The Associated Press. “The number of clinics offering abortions in those 15 states fell from 79 to 13 last October, with the remaining clinics in Georgia.”
When West Virginia lawmakers passed their sweeping abortion ban, several members of the Republican majority said they hoped it would force West Virginia’s Women’s Health Center to close, the AP reported.
Republican Senator Robert Karnes said he believed closing the center would “save a lot of babies,” and Brandon Steele, a Republican in the state’s House of Representatives, called access to abortion “a scar” and “a curse.” . “Remove from this country,” the AP said.
While Maryland is democratically controlled, Allegany County, remarkably, is not.
According to the state’s election board, 65.19% of Allegany County voters cast a ballot for Republican Dan Cox in the 2022 general election.
About 68% of voters in the county voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, the New York Times reported.
In April, some pro-life advocates attended a meeting of the Allegany County Board of Commissioners to oppose plans for the Women’s Health Center.
“This clinic is not intended for our hometown and this center should not be endorsed by any of our community leaders or receive money from our taxpayers,” Morgan Whitmer, a resident of Allegany County, said at the time.
Whitmer also spoke out against the use of gender-affirming hormone therapy.
“Men can’t be women and women can’t be men,” she said.
The importance of opening the health center in Allegany County is that “it will provide a range of reproductive health services for all people in an otherwise reproductive health care desert,” said Cresta Kowalski, president of the Mountain Maryland Alliance for Reproductive Freedom, via email. .
The center will provide birth control, pre-exposure prophylaxis, pregnancy support and emergency contraception “to our community on a sliding scale to enable people to pay for their health care and not without having to,” she said.
“The negative messages focus on surgical abortions, which will be offered up to 16 weeks and well protected in the state of Maryland,” Kowalski said. “Yet it is not the only health care that will be offered and should not be the sole focus of WHC’s services.”
The health center will create jobs in the area, “and people will come to Allegany County seeking asylum from their state where they are being stripped of their rights for basic reproductive health care,” Kowalski said.
“The arrival of the WHC is positive for the residents of Allegany County and will be welcomed by those who come from neighboring states to seek fair and compassionate reproductive health care,” she said.
“Many of us in Mountain Maryland are asking our neighbors to use decency and treat those using the services of this clinic to make the very best decisions about their health, their families, their future and their livelihoods, without interference and without judgment, said Judy A. Carbone, secretary and treasurer of Mountain Maryland Alliance for Reproductive Freedom. “Give them grace and give them empathy.”