AP journalists gain access to a Louisiana abortion clinic, earning the trust of Texas women who shared stories of ending their pregnancies.

Politicians, activists and medical personnel frequently weigh in on America’s pitched abortion debate. But the voices of the people most affected by the slew of new laws that restrict access to abortion are seldom heard.

Allowing patients to tell their stories of seeking to end their pregnancies has been a priority in AP’s coverage of Texas’ new law banning most abortions. Oklahoma City-based reporter Sean Murphy and Miami-based photographer Rebecca Blackwell delivered impressively on that goal with a sensitively written, visually compelling all-formats package.

Court filings and abortion providers had given anecdotal evidence of Texas women traveling hundreds of miles to out-of-state abortions. Murphy pressed to be allowed access at clinics in Oklahoma and in Louisiana, but clinic directors expressed reluctance, concerned about patient privacy and overwhelmed with scheduling visits by women from their own states and Texas.

When a clinic director in Shreveport, Louisiana, agreed to let Murphy and Blackwell come to her facility, it came with stipulations: Blackwell would have to stay out of the building while patients were there, and Murphy would have to sit in a room alone, waiting for patients who agreed to speak with him.

But both journalists showed up early, talked with clinic staff and negotiated more. They came prepared with printed bios about themselves and an explanation of the type of work AP does, all to be shared with patients and emphasizing the importance of patients giving their perspectives while AP protected their identities. And that’s what happened.

After spending more than eight hours at the clinic, Murphy and Blackwell were allowed to stay in the waiting room where they met women whose voices were brought to life in text, photo, video and audio. The pair was aided by Top Stories Hub text editor Chris Sundheim, photo editor Alyssa Goodman, who crafted a powerful visual presentation that highlighted the women in the story, and Central Region video staffer Carrie Antlfinger, who knit together all the elements for a compelling video.

The story was also notable for including the voice of an anti-abortion protester outside the clinic, giving his rationale for opposing the clinic’s work.

One woman drove alone four hours to an appointment. She planned to sleep in her car before an advocacy organization helped get her a hotel room. The mother of three worried that adding a baby would take time, food, money and space away from her children. If she were not able to seek medical assistance, she said, she still would have tried to end her pregnancy.

“If you can’t get rid of the baby, what’s the next thing you’re going to do? You’re going to try to get rid of it yourself,” she said.

For gaining access and handling a delicate and polarizing story with professionalism, grace and accuracy while providing AP’s worldwide audience a greater understanding of the real-life impacts of the Texas law, Murphy and Blackwell are AP’s Best of the Week — First Winners.

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