Once a month, Carol Ball’s trip to work begins early in the morning at the airport when she catches a flight in St. Paul. She completes her journey 200 miles away, in Sioux Falls, at South Dakota’s only abortion clinic. Since 2004, Planned Parenthood has been unable to find a South Dakota doctor willing to work at the clinic, so Ball and three other traveling doctors have stepped in. Among the states hostile to abortion providers, South Dakota ranks at the very top, which means Ball has to take certain precautions. She now gets picked up from the airport in South Dakota by a security guard instead of clinic staff.
Ever since Roe v. Wade, the pro-choice movement has dreamed of a world where abortion services are inconspicuous, integrated into a woman’s routine health care, and provided by her chosen doctor. But nearly 40 years on, some places are as resistant to this notion as ever. So the movement has had to rely on a handful of pioneers, such as Ball, for whom the culture war is hardly an abstract metaphor. They fly or drive for hours, into states or pockets within states (in North Dakota, Nevada, California, for example) where no local doctors are willing to do the work. They almost always face a line of protesters on their way to work, some of whom hold posters with the doctor’s name and face on them. In those communities, they are pariahs, but to the pro-choice movement they are heroes.