New abortion provider in Western Maryland will cut patients’ journeys from West Virginia, where procedure is banned

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CRESAPTOWN — Katie Quiñonez stood ankle deep in snow last December in front of a brick building about five miles west of the West Virginia state line, staring at a small brass key in her hand.

She had rented a two-door hatchback to drive through the Allegheny Mountains during a blizzard to get there. With tears in her eyes, she texted a photo of the key to her team at the Charleston-based Women’s Health Center of West Virginia with a message: “We did it.”


Three months earlier, in September, West Virginia lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to ban nearly all abortions in the state. The Women’s Health Center immediately stopped providing the procedure and, over the next two days, staff members canceled more than 100 appointments and directed patients to a website where they could find the nearest out-of-state clinic and request funding to get there.

Patients still call the center to ask where they can get an abortion, Quiñonez said. Soon, they’ll have an option in Maryland that’s closer than clinics in Hagerstown and Frederick — cities that are about a six-hour drive from West Virginia’s southernmost county.

Katie Quiñonez, director of the Women's Health Center of West Virginia, speaks in front of the building that soon will house the Women's Health Center of Maryland. The center will provide abortions to patients, including those from Wesf Virginia, where nearly all abortions are now banned.

Toward the end of next month, Quiñonez and her team will open the Women’s Health Center of Maryland in a building a few miles outside of Cumberland’s city limits that they purchased in December for $700,000. It will be the farthest west of Maryland’s abortion providers and — unlike Hagerstown’s clinic, which only offers first-trimester abortions and doesn’t accept Maryland Medicaid — will offer abortions up to 16 weeks of pregnancy and accept the government insurance for low-income Marylanders.

The center also will offer annual exams, contraception, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and breast and cervical cancer screenings in a region that advocates say sorely lacks reproductive health care options. It also will provide gender-affirming hormone therapy — care that Quiñonez said is still offered at the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia.

Some minor renovations need to be finished on the one-story former family medical practice before the center accepts patients, Quiñonez said Monday. Her team is converting a former radiology lab into a recovery room, for example.

On Monday, Quiñonez addressed a crowd of supporters in front of the future health center as a group of about a dozen protesters with anti-abortion signs stood a few yards away on a narrow grass buffer between the center’s parking lot and the highway.

“Let’s be clear,” Quiñonez said. “Abortion bans have nothing to do with babies or saving lives. They are about control, plain and simple.”

“And when abortion is banned, we know who suffers most in our communities as a direct result — people of color, young people, people with low incomes, people in rural areas, LGBTQ+ people,” she said. “We know that people who are denied abortion care are more likely to stay in intimate partner violence situations, file for bankruptcy, have lower credit scores and are forced to raise the children they already have in conditions that are detrimental to their development and well-being.”

According to Guttmacher Institute, a research nonprofit that aims to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights, 58% of women of reproductive age in America live in states hostile to abortion rights. Since the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated women’s right to an abortion last summer in its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, 26 states have passed restrictive policies on abortion. The procedure is banned, with few exemptions, in half of those states.

Maryland is one of few states that has taken steps to strengthen abortion protections.


Lawmakers passed a four-bill reproductive rights package this session, which included two bills that went into effect last week. One prohibits the state from helping with investigations and court proceedings in other states against patients or providers involved in abortions in Maryland. The other bars electronic records related to a patient’s reproductive health care from crossing state lines without the patient’s consent.

And in 2024, Marylanders will vote whether they want to enshrine access to abortion in the state constitution.

As someone who lives in one of the 24 states where reproductive rights remain protected, Karen Nelson, the president of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, said she feels responsible for making sure abortion care is accessible to people who live outside of the state.

Though Planned Parenthood clinics in Maryland always have seen patients from surrounding states such as West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware, they now see patients from more than half the states in the country, Nelson said.

“People should be making decisions based on their health and on their lives, not on what they can afford,” she said.

Terri Rodebaugh and Pam Cline made the three-hour trip Monday from West Virginia’s Nicholas County to celebrate the center’s impending opening. While that’s a long way for someone to drive if they need to terminate a pregnancy, it’s better than the trip of more than four hours they’d have to make to Hagerstown or Frederick.


Rodebaugh, 61, is past the age where she has to worry about getting pregnant. But she’s concerned for her granddaughter and great-granddaughter, who also live in West Virginia.

“I don’t think any woman really wants to have an abortion. But she should have that right if she needs to,” said Rodebaugh, who serves on the Nicholas County Democratic Executive Committee with Cline. “I don’t think it should be dictated by our government. Our bodies should not be dictated by our government.”

Though Quiñonez hadn’t heard from anyone opposing the center before the group of protesters gathered in front of the parking lot Monday, some of the companies her team is working with to renovate the building told her anti-abortion advocates called them to ask if they could charge the center more.

Many residents in nearby Cumberland aren’t happy about having an abortion provider opening close by, Mayor Roy Morriss said, though he added he hears more complaints about traffic in town and water rates.

In April, about a dozen people spoke against the center’s opening at a crowded hearing held by Allegany County’s Board of County Commissioners. Board President David Caporale told the audience that the three commissioners — all Republicans — agreed with the speakers, but their hands were tied by state law from stopping the center from opening.

That didn’t stop them from trying to figure out if they could, though. They met in executive session to discuss a number of options to stop the clinic’s opening or obstruct the services it provides. At the April meeting, the county’s lawyer said doing so would be an uphill battle.


While Commissioner Creade V. Brodie Jr. acknowledged as much at that meeting, saying that even if the commissioners voted to ban abortion in Allegany County, it wouldn’t stand, “because I can’t trump the governor and I can’t trump the legislature.”

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“Quite frankly, at 56 years old, I was married as a teenager. I have a 36-year-old son,” Brodie said. “No regrets, me and my wife are still together. I just think it’s ludicrous that we have to focus on a way to kill a child.”

While there’s opposition to the center in the county, where more than 60% voted for Republican candidate Dan Cox in last year’s gubernatorial election, there’s also plenty of support, advocates said Monday.

Shortly after the Dobbs decision, Cresta Kowalski of Cumberland met with other supporters of reproductive rights in Allegany and Garrett counties. Aiming to preserve abortion access in Western Maryland, they formed the Mountain Maryland Alliance for Reproductive Freedom.

They shared stories with one another of children who had become pregnant after being raped by relatives and mothers who didn’t want to have any more children, but were trapped in abusive marriages. They also spoke of the possibility of a reproductive health clinic opening closer to the Western Maryland border, so thousands of women wouldn’t have to drive hours to access care.

On Monday, Kowalski teared up as she talked about what the Women’s Health Center of Maryland will mean for the young women of Mountain Maryland and for the region’s queer community.


Her child is nonbinary and trans-masculine and wants to start hormone replacement therapy. Though her child — who uses they and he pronouns — could access that therapy in Frederick, where they’re a student at Hood College, the new Western Maryland clinic is 15 minutes from home.

“This day is a day of celebration,” Kowalski said. “The Women’s Health Center of Maryland will be a beacon of hope and light to people who’ve been in darkness for way too long.”