A fifth-generation Seventh Day Adventist, Karen Musick was “raised looking for a missionary challenge.” Her high school was an Adventist academy. She went to an Adventist college. She grew up hearing stories of how far people would travel to visit her grandfather, a respected missionary doctor working in Africa. Musick’s first exposure to life “outside of the Seventh Day Adventist world at all,” she told me, was when she graduated from college and went to New York City for a finance job in the World Trade Center.

But these days, that spiritual call has taken a very specific direction. As one of three volunteers who helm the Arkansas Abortion Support Network, Musick spent the last eight years donning a rainbow vest with the word “ESCORT” on it, accompanying patients from an often-vitriol-charged parking lot to the doors of the Little Rock Family Planning Clinic, the only spot in Arkansas that was dedicated to performing surgical abortions. None of the escorts, nor any of the organization’s three leaders — Musick, Ali Taylor and Roz Creed — take a paycheck for their work. And yet, when we talked with Musick a week after Arkansas’s “trigger law” took effect and made abortions illegal immediately even in cases of rape and incest, every single person who had reached out for help from the organization had received assistance to get their transportation and procedure costs covered, “if that’s what they needed,” Musick said. “But how that’s going to work in another month, in another several months, is going to be different. There are a lot of barriers. The effort to try to make what we’re doing illegal is frightening.”

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THE END OF LEGAL ABORTION IN ARKANSAS: Attorney General Leslie Rutledge signs papers to put abortion ban into effect.

On the Friday morning the news came down that the U.S. Supreme Court, newly stacked with three Trump-nominated justices, would upend the 50-year precedent set by the Roe v. Wade decision, Musick first heard the news on the concrete parking lot of the abortion clinic — from the mouth of an anti-abortion protestor. She and another escort were there at 7:15 a.m., mirroring the clinic’s appointment schedule. The three protestors (all of them men) who showed up that morning to harangue and photograph patients as they entered the clinic began “cheering and yelling,” Musick recalled, “and neither of us had gotten the notice yet on our phone.” Musick was left to console patients whose appointments had been abruptly canceled. One patient had driven with her mother from Oklahoma for an appointment that day; the clinic hadn’t been able to reach her on the phone to give her the news, and she arrived to discover that she’d have to start the process all over again — in yet another state. “It was enough to scar me for life,” Musick said. “I can’t imagine the pain of the clinic staff. I’ll never get over some of the pain I had to witness.” Protesters turned up “out of the woodwork” that day after news of the decision spread, Musick said, “but so did half a dozen clinic escorts! They just didn’t know where else to go, so they just put their vests on and came on over and helped us through the day.”

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Brian Chilson
Abortion clinic escorts Sarah Samuels and Karen Musick take the Tuesday morning shift.

Musick didn’t get home until around midnight that night. After her shift at the clinic, she went to the state Capitol for the reproductive rights rally that materialized in the immediate wake of the decision, where state Rep. Jamie Scott (D-North Little Rock), state Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock) and state Sen. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) stood with Arkansans in the summer heat and spoke out against the abortion ban. “It was a very long day,” Musick said. “But the community is an amazing community. The support is incredible.”

Brian Chilson
Rep. Jamie Scott (D-North Little Rock) addresses the crowd at the June 24 rally as Rep. Vivian Flowers (D-Pine Bluff) captures footage for posterity.

Musick and the league of volunteers at the Abortion Support Network had been anticipating the criminalization of abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed a Texas abortion ban to take effect last fall, and especially since May 2, when a leaked Supreme Court opinion threatened future removal of federal protections for abortion access. Up until June 24, the text on the Arkansas Abortion Support Network’s website under the “Need help?” tab read: “ABORTION IS STILL LEGAL IN ARKANSAS.” Now, the website reads: “WE ARE STILL HERE. We can help you go out of state to access abortion in states where it is still legal.” Musick’s work has changed in expected and unexpected ways. She’s still helping pregnant people navigate access to safe abortions, albeit over the phone instead of in the clinic parking lot. She’s trying to remember to take care of herself — to “sleep well and eat appropriately, accurately, carefully, to keep myself fueled.” She’s fielding calls from reporters at national media outlets who want her to put them in touch with Arkansans seeking abortion access, and turning them down. “I’m not going to put people through that,” she said. “I’m not going to call people up and say, ‘Remember last month? A reporter wants to talk to you!’ … I’m delighted that people can share their stories,” she said. “It takes a lot of strength to be able to do that. If reporters are asking the right questions, it’s such an important thing to do — to connect the stories to the general population. But I’ve decided I’m leaving myself out of it. I can’t.”

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There’s an exception to that rule, though: Musick’s own abortion story. “I had an abortion when I was in college,” Musick told me. The pregnancy, she said, “was not God-intended. It was not any-intended.” At her devoutly religious college, continuing the pregnancy would have meant the end of her education, or worse. “I know for a fact my life would have taken turns that I can’t even begin to fathom if I had continued the pregnancy,” she said. “Although I can’t envision that. I seriously would have killed myself before having a baby at that point.” Having committed what her religious upbringing deemed a sin — sex before marriage — she “used that moment to reclaim my life for God. I wasn’t raised in a world where people thought it was a sin to have an abortion. The sin that I did was having sex before I got married. I knew that. But pregnancy is just an outcome of that. I had already sinned.” With that experience in the rearview mirror, along with a subsequent ectopic pregnancy, multiple miscarriages and, eventually, the birth of her daughter — her “pride and joy” — Musick considers herself an “abortion rights missionary” of sorts. “I see myself doing this the rest of my life, making sure that people have access to safe, legal abortions.” Though she doesn’t consider herself a practicing Adventist, she doesn’t bristle at another spiritual label — being called “an angel” by some of those whose lives she’s dropped into at pivotal moments. “I’m going to try and live up to that,” she said.

Brian Chilson
MUSICK ON A MISSION: Karen Musick of the Arkansas Abortion Support Network.

Musick’s husband of over 40 years, with whom she moved to Arkansas in 2001, rubs her feet at the end of a hard day. “He’s so proud of me,” she said. “My daughter will post pictures of me doing things and her friends will say, ‘Your mom’s such a badass.’ They give me the strength I need. Both of them do.” She’d love to be a grandmother, she says, “but not one second before my daughter is ready to be a mother.”

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“When we started this as clinic escorts,” Musick said, “we never envisioned that the ability for someone to access an abortion might depend on our abilities to raise enough money to help them get out of state. This is so much bigger than we envisioned it being. And it’s a little bit frightening because we’re all still volunteers.” Still, she said, she’s hopeful. “I believe in the good in people,” she said. “I believe that we’re put here to be of service to others. I believe that if we do have a purpose in this life, it has to include being kind, or why are we here?”