Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Pittsburgh Planned Parenthood worker describes ‘tidal wave’ of traveling patients since Friday

The Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania location in downtown Pittsburgh.
Oliver Morrison
90.5 WESA
The Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania location in downtown Pittsburgh.

Just before 9 a.m. on Friday, June 24, Crystal Grabowski found the Mexican folk song “Cielito Lindo” playing in her head as she and her colleagues at the Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania location in downtown Pittsburgh waited for news from the U.S. Supreme Court.

The lyrics in the chorus — “Canta y no llores,” which means “sing and don’t cry”— were giving her hope, even though she believed what was coming was inevitable. Grabowski has worked at the center for five years as a health care assistant, scheduling patients on the phone, taking their medical information and even holding their hands.

Start your morning with today's news on Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania.

When she looked down at her phone in between patients just after 10 a.m. and saw the news — the court had overturned the right to an abortion — she went to the bathroom and cried. She pulled herself together before coming out to help her next patient.

And then — almost all at once, she said — hundreds of calls started coming in. They haven’t stopped in the five days since then.

“It feels like it's like a tidal wave,” she said.

On the first day after the court ruling became public, those callers included a lot of journalists, in addition to patients from across the region. But when Grabowski went to work on Saturday — which was supposed to be her day off — many of the calls came from Ohio, she said. The evening before, a judge in Ohio ruled that a bill banning abortions after six weeks now could go into effect.

By Tuesday, she said, the waiting time to obtain an abortion procedure at the clinic had doubled, from approximately two weeks to four weeks. Still, many of the patients she talks to are so happy to have their appointments rescheduled that she sometimes hears them audibly scream with joy.

There have been so many calls coming in she doesn’t have time to take notes or send a fax between calls. And the calls are taking longer than they typically do, she said, because more patients than usual need financial aid and because she has had to explain the abortion laws in Pennsylvania, which differ from those in Ohio and West Virginia.

Many of the new calls weren’t even about abortions, she said. She’s heard from patients across Western Pennsylvania asking for IUDs, tubal ligations and vasectomies — and her clinic doesn’t perform the latter two procedures, she said.

“They're afraid that we'll lose access in Pennsylvania because everything is so fast-moving and just all over the place and unstable,” she said. “Parents are racing to get their kids on birth control before they go to college because their kids are going to college in states where there are [abortion] bans.

Grabowski said she and her colleagues have been working overtime as much as they can. But Sara Dixon, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, said the organization is actively hiring for multiple positions.

The clinic’s workers have been buoyed by a stream of gifts, including meals, snacks and even massage appointments, Grabowski said, and they have received a steady stream of supportive messages.

One mother who called the clinic to schedule an abortion told Grabowski that she had a history of medically complicated pregnancies. The mother said she was thinking of her young daughter when she scheduled the appointment.

“I don't know what I would do if anything happened to you,” she said the woman’s daughter had told her before the call.

Oliver Morrison is a general assignment reporter at WESA. He previously covered education, environment and health for PublicSource in Pittsburgh and, before that, breaking news and weekend features for the Wichita Eagle in Kansas.