After thirty years in the business, the Women’s Health and Family Care clinic is closing down next month due to rising costs, such as rent.
It’s the only clinic that provides abortions in the region, and its closure may mean a six-week gap in pregnancy-ending care.
For that time, the closest in-person abortion provider will be more than four hours away, 280 miles, in Casper.
“People should not have a difficult time getting the fundamental health care that they need — which is what abortion care is — just because things are getting expensive,” said Christine Lichtenfels, who leads the reproductive rights advocacy group Chelsea’s Fund.
The clinic serves patients from across Western Wyoming and Eastern Idaho, as the neighboring state has banned abortions.
The closure also presents questions on next steps for the clinic’s patients seeking a wide range of gynecologic and obstetric care, besides abortion, in the months to come.
Impact on patients
Staff told KHOL the decision to shut down has been met with confusion, shock and panic from patients.
Mid-day on Friday, one patient arrived at the clinic’s office off East Broadway Avenue, with a letter in hand. The four doctors had sent it out to all their clients.
“With the rising costs of overhead, including rent, labor, and supplies, our private practice is no longer sustainable,” it read. “We have had the privilege of serving the community for over 30 years and plan to continue doing so, just at different locations.”
But when the individual, who didn’t share their name, asked when and where they could see their provider, staff didn’t have clear answers yet.
They said two doctors are trying to figure out how to start a private practice in the next year, but it’s uncertain what exactly that will look like.
The other two physicians are going to St. John’s Health.
“Patients [are] really upset that we’re closing, longtime patients,” said Office Manager Tulsa Versey, who’s speaking on behalf of the doctors Thursday. “But it has helped ease their minds that their providers are still going to be in the area.”
Like many other businesses in Teton County, costs have gone up for the women’s clinic. But, according to Versey, it can’t charge patients more for insurance reasons.
“So costs are going up, but we’re not making more money,” she said.
Rent for the clinic has been going up every year, Versey said. She didn’t have the numbers for rising wages or supplies on hand, but she said — just this spring — rent went up about $1,100, from $8,300 to $9,400.
The clinic rents its office space from its neighbor, St. John’s Health.
Karen Connelly, chief communications officer at St. John’s, said the hospital is required by law to charge “fair market values” to its renters.
“Unfortunately in Jackson, it’s like chasing your tail sometimes,” Connelly said. “Those fair market values have risen, just like all of our rents, for the apartments we rent, our property taxes.”
Private clinics closing is a trend nationwide. According to a report from the American Medical Association, between 2012 and 2022, the share of physicians working in private practices dropped by 13 percent — largely due to financial reasons.
The closure of the women’s and family clinic comes on the heels of another local OB/GYN shutting her doors, which were located in the same building as the women’s clinic.
Dr. Mary Girling stopped serving patients in June, partly due to the high cost of housing in the region — out of reach for even doctors.
“It’s just becoming harder and harder for independent providers to have a sustainable practice nationally and definitely in high cost of living places,” Connelly said.
The letter from the doctors, who aren’t responding to public comment about the closure, makes it clear: they aren’t going away.
“Fortunately, our doctors plan to stay in the community and continue their medical practices,” it states.
For half of them, this means establishing private practices. That includes Dr. Giovannina Anthony, who is at the forefront of the fight to try and keep abortion access legal in Wyoming, but also Dr. Doug George — who says in the letter that he plans on seeing patients in 2024.
The physicians transitioning to St. John’s Family Medicine are Dr. Laura Vignaroli and Dr. Katie Noyes, one of the region’s only other medical abortion providers.
The women’s clinic is slated to close in mid-December, and Noyes won’t start seeing patients again until February.
Versey said Noyes’ plan is to continue offering abortion services at St. John’s. But Connelly, with the hospital, told KHOL they don’t have the information to confirm that at the moment due to the “uncertain legal environment” in Wyoming.
Pregnancy-ending care remains legal in Wyoming, as the state’s abortion bans are currently blocked in the courts. In a Dec. 14 hearing, a Teton County judge could weigh in on the future of abortion rights in the state.
The Women’s Health and Family Care clinic is slated to close the following day, Dec. 15.
Lichtenfels from Chelsea’s Fund said people wishing to terminate their pregnancies still have other options. They can get abortion pills online from Just The Pill, which serves patients in Minnesota, Colorado, Montana and Wyoming.
“Just the Pill has been providing telehealth medication abortion care for almost two-years here in Wyoming now,” Lichtenfels said. “So they’re well established.”
For people seeking in-person care, the closest clinic is Wellspring Health Access in Casper, which provides both medical and procedural abortions.
Another provider in Jackson, Gros Ventre OB/GYN, says on its website that the clinic is currently accepting patients for pregnancy care, gynecology and infertility — but it doesn’t provide abortions.