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A doctor moved to a state where abortion is legal. She’s concerned about the election

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

West Virginia is one of 14 states that enacted a near-total abortion ban after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022. The state and surrounding areas have been characterized as an abortion desert.

ANNE BANFIELD: And so those women really, in that state, or anyone who needs full-service reproductive care, often have to travel vast distances, creating these deserts, as we call them, where services just aren't available.

KELLY: That is Dr. Anne Banfield, an OB-GYN and abortion rights activist who left the small town of Elkins, W. Va., where she used to practice, for a job in a rural part of southern Maryland, just months before the Supreme Court struck down Roe.

BANFIELD: So I did, of course, know that the landscape was about to shift. And while it was not the driving force behind my decision, it certainly didn't hurt at all that Maryland, where I was planning to go, was a very protective state.

KELLY: She says it is quite a contrast to practice in Maryland, where laws to protect abortion access were expanded in response to the fall of Roe, and where, this November, voters will decide whether abortion rights will be enshrined in the state's constitution. This week, as part of our series, We, The Voters, I spoke with Dr. Banfield about the political contrast between neighboring states on this election-year issue.

BANFIELD: I was, I guess, very naive, perhaps, when I came out of training. It never crossed my mind then that I would ever live in a post-Roe world. I think that, for folks who weren't working in the space or didn't have a reason to be interested in these issues, even up until the Dobbs decision occurred, I think that there were still people who didn't realize the path that we were on and that they might someday live in a post-Roe world.

KELLY: Or, needless to say, in the middle of an election year where reproductive rights, where access to abortion is a huge issue on voters' minds. How is it weighing on your mind? What are your concerns, thoughts, hopes for this election year?

BANFIELD: I think my biggest concern is that people are not going to vote because they don't think it makes a difference, and that will have down-ballot consequences that we don't see fully. My concern is that we would end up in a situation where there would be federal law passed to restrict access to care. And that disruption of the physician-patient relationship on the federal level is something that I'm very concerned with.

KELLY: Does it reassure you when you hear Donald Trump say he wants to leave these decisions to individual states - let voters and people and the people who they elect in each state make these decisions?

BANFIELD: It doesn't really reassure me because we don't know what the consequences of laws in other states are going to do, even for the providers who are in protected states. You know, one of the things that Maryland had done was to put in place a shield law to try to protect providers here in Maryland from the consequences of laws in states that have restrictions. But we don't know that when one of us flies into the state of Texas, could your name be on a list? We don't know that those restrictive states aren't going to try to do more things to prevent patients from traveling to reach care. So I don't think that saying we're going to leave it as a state decision reassures me or makes me feel better about the situation at all.

KELLY: That brings me to the last thing I wanted to ask you, which is, if you were able to give a message directly to the candidates, either at the top of the ticket or local races back in West Virginia or Maryland, what would you want people running to be our political leaders to know about what it is like to do your job in this post-Roe era?

BANFIELD: I think they all need to recognize that they, as people, would not want interference in the doctor-patient relationships they are in with their physicians. And they should be thinking along those lines when they are making other choices that are going to impact someone else's ability to have the trusted and strong relationship that they need with their health care providers when they are thinking about legislating related to health care.

KELLY: Dr. Anne Banfield, thank you.

BANFIELD: Thank you so much, Mary Louise.

KELLY: And our series, We, The Voters, continues tomorrow. We will hear what can happen when you take more than a dozen voters who strongly disagree and ask them to find common ground on abortion policy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.