A Tale of Two Sides: Abortion Wars Surge in America’s Border Towns

In the modest city of West Wendover, Nevada, a battle is being waged that mirrors a nationwide struggle – the fight over abortion rights. It’s not the usual political battlefield but small-town America, nestled right on the borders of states with vastly different views on reproductive rights.

Enter Mark Lee Dickson, the director of Right to Life of East Texas and the founder of an organization that’s been sweeping the country, urging local governments to pass abortion bans. His success rate? “Sixty-five cities and two counties across the United States,” the majority of which are in Texas. But now, his focus has turned to states like Virginia, Illinois, Montana, and, of course, Nevada.

This escalating battle is centered in places like West Wendover, and Hobbs, New Mexico, border towns caught in the middle of differing state legislation on abortion. These areas are critical as they become potential sites for clinics that can serve people from neighboring states where access to abortion has been heavily curtailed, particularly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent rollback of Roe v. Wade protections.

The citizens of West Wendover find themselves in the throes of this polarizing issue, grappling with the push and pull from external advocates like Dickson. He approached the West Wendover City Council with his abortion ban proposal after they rejected a building permit for a California-based Planned Parenthood clinic, which promised to provide not only abortion services but much-needed primary care.

This border town, a hub for casinos and a marijuana dispensary thanks to its location next to states where these are illegal, is now the stage for a larger debate following the Dobbs decision overturning Roe. Conservative residents are rallying behind Dickson, but there’s resistance.

Enter Fernando and Marcos Cerros, two brothers who see this clinic as a potential lifeline in their rural community. The area is currently designated a medically underserved area by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. “Planned Parenthood offered a solution to the area’s health care shortage on a silver platter,” said 22-year-old Fernando. Despite challenges, the Cerros brothers are committed to mobilizing support for abortion access and establishing the Planned Parenthood clinic.

But the struggle is far from over. While Nevada law protects abortion up to 24 weeks, the neighboring Utah and Idaho have significantly stricter laws. This stark discrepancy in reproductive rights policies across state lines signifies the new normal in America’s abortion landscape, according to Rachel Rebouché, dean of the Beasley School of Law at Temple University.

Dickson’s strategy has been to invoke the 150-year-old federal law, the Comstock Act, in an attempt to overrule state laws. This federal law restricts the mailing of abortion pills, but its application has been limited by previous court rulings.

While the fate of West Wendover’s Planned Parenthood clinic remains in legal limbo, the battle in this small border town continues to mirror a larger nationwide struggle over abortion rights. As border towns become central to access to abortion, they highlight the critical question of reproductive rights in a post-Dobbs era.

Reflecting on the whole situation, Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, pointed out the irony of Dickson’s multistate effort to restrict people from crossing state lines for reproductive health care, including abortion. She asserts, “It’s an incredibly cynical, politically motivated effort largely aimed at sowing confusion and stigmatizing abortion care.”

While the decision is far from clear-cut for many community members, they understand the importance of access to care. Fernando Cerros emphasized the need for emergency care facilities, recounting his mother’s miscarriage after an hour-and-a-half drive to Salt Lake City.

What’s clear is that these border towns, where small-town America meets state lines, have become the newest battlegrounds for a long-contested issue, providing an intimate look at the human toll of America’s abortion debates.