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Small, rural communities have become abortion access battlegrounds

Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez, KFF Health News on

Published in News & Features

WEST WENDOVER, Nevada — In April, Mark Lee Dickson arrived in this 4,500-person city that hugs the Utah-Nevada border to pitch an ordinance banning abortion.

Dickson is the director of the anti-abortion group Right to Life of East Texas and founder of another organization that has spent the past few years traveling the United States trying to persuade local governments to pass abortion bans.

“Sixty-five cities and two counties across the United States” have passed similar restrictions, he told members of the West Wendover City Council during a mid-April meeting. The majority are in Texas, but recent successes in other states have buoyed Dickson and his group.

“We’re doing this in Virginia and Illinois and Montana and other places as well,” he said.

The quest to enact local bans has become particularly acute in small towns, like West Wendover and Hobbs, New Mexico, which are situated by borders between states that have restricted abortion and states where laws preserve access. They are crossroads where abortion advocates and providers have looked to establish clinics to serve people traveling from the large swaths of the U.S. where states have banned or severely restricted abortions after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned nearly 50-year-old nationwide abortion protections established by the court’s decision in Roe v. Wade.

Residents and leaders in West Wendover and many other towns and cities are grappling with the arrival of outside advocates, including Dickson, who now claim a stake in the governance of their small and otherwise quiet communities.


Dickson’s proposal to the West Wendover City Council came after council members voted against issuing a building permit to California-based Planned Parenthood Mar Monte in March. Officials from the Planned Parenthood affiliate told the local board the facility would offer primary care services in addition to abortion and other reproductive care. The vote followed hours of heated debate during public comment. Then, Mayor Jasie Holm vetoed the council’s decision, leaving the request for the permit in limbo.

Located in northeastern Nevada, West Wendover is more than 100 miles by car from Elko, the county seat, 120 miles west from Salt Lake City, and 170 miles south from Twin Falls, Idaho. The city has been a strategic location for casinos and a marijuana dispensary, which are legal in Nevada but restricted in Utah and Idaho. Similarly, its proximity to states that moved to restrict abortion access following the Dobbs decision overturning Roe has put a spotlight on the city.

Dickson’s anti-abortion proposal has drawn support from the town’s more conservative residents. But brothers Fernando and Marcos Cerros have challenged the anti-abortion efforts. In addition to wanting to protect and expand access to abortion, they both saw the primary care clinic that Planned Parenthood Mar Monte was seeking to establish as a potential victory in their rural community, which is designated a medically underserved area by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration.

Fernando Cerros, 22, said Planned Parenthood offered a solution to the area’s health care shortage “on a silver platter.”


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