As some states pass stricter abortion bans, others plan for influx of more patients

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Lawmakers and clinics in a number of states are stepping up to increase the number of patients abortion providers are able to see.

As more states pass gestational bans on abortion before a fetus is viable outside the uterus, clinics in states that do not have such bans are working on expanding their capacity to take on patients as a critical step in ensuring that abortion remains available even for those who cannot obtain one where they live.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court let Texas' six-week previability abortion ban stand, several other states have passed similar laws. Florida earlier this month passed a gestational ban at 15 weeks, the same length as Mississippi's, which the Supreme Court is currently considering, having heard oral arguments at the end of last year. 

Arizona's legislature also just passed a 15-week ban, and conservative GOP Gov. Doug Ducey is expected to sign it. Ducey is a consistent foe of abortion and has signed restrictions into law in the past. 

In Idaho, Republican Gov. Brad Little just signed a six-week ban containing the same type of enforcement provision as Texas' S.B. 8, which allows private citizens to sue anyone who "aids or abets" a person obtaining an abortion. Idaho's version enables family members to sue abortion providers for no less than $20,000 in damages. As the Associated Press notes, rapists can't sue under the law, but the rapist's relatives can. 

As these restrictions pass in some state legislatures, the pressure on providers in other states to provide abortion services is growing. In February, 19th News reported that some clinics in states surrounding Texas had reported treating twice as many patients as they had before S.B. 8 went into effect. One clinic in Oklahoma stated that it went from seeing 30-40 people per day to 40-50, and its call volume had at least doubled and perhaps tripled. 

Lawmakers and clinics are stepping up to increase the number of patients abortion providers are able to see. California Democrats are taking a unique approach, working to allow nurse practitioners to perform abortions independently of doctors as long as they meet certain criteria and have advanced training certification. The state has some 30,000 nurse practitioners. It is also working on a comprehensive plan to provide access to abortion services for out-of-state patients, including increasing telehealth options for medication abortions and creating hubs for abortion care in locations easy to reach for people outside California. 

In Nevada, Planned Parenthood has announced plans to build a larger clinic in Reno. Nevada has a lengthy history of standing firm on abortion rights, allowing for abortions up to 24 weeks' gestation. The measure protecting abortion access up to 24 weeks, which was approved by voters in 1990 via a ballot measure, may provide some insulation if anti-abortion politicians are elected in the state, as a ballot measure can only be overturned by another ballot measure; the majority of the state's citizens would have to vote to overturn the 24-week provision. 

Planned Parenthood of Illinois opened a logistics center earlier this year that assists patients from out of state in arranging travel, lodging, child care, and funding for abortions. Yamelsie Rodriguez, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, said that if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, her organization would expect to see an additional 14,000 patients annually from outside the state. 

Other states have taken a more symbolic approach, passing measures that affirm the right to abortion. Earlier this year, New Jersey enacted a law that enshrines the right to an abortion in state law. The state is also examining the barriers that low-income people face when they try to obtain an abortion. 

Rhode Island had previously affirmed the right to an abortion in 2019. However, the state failed to change laws prohibiting Medicaid from covering abortions. Now it is exploring how that coverage might be provided, which could significantly increase access for low-income people who need abortions.  

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.