Pro-abortion states brace for more patients if Roe falls

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Leaders at a Tennessee abortion clinic calculated driving distances and surveyed passenger train routes as they scanned the map for another place to offer services if the Supreme Court allows states to restrict or eliminate the right to abortion.

They chose Carbondale in Illinois, a state that has easy access to abortion but is surrounded by restrictive states in the South and Midwest. It will be the southernmost clinic in Illinois when it opens in August.

“I think at this point, we all know the stark reality that we face in Tennessee. We are going to lose access to abortion this year,” said Jennifer Pepper, executive director of CHOICES: Memphis Center for Reproductive Health.

With the US Supreme Court poised to allow states to strictly limit or ban abortion, reproductive rights advocates plan to open new clinics or expand existing ones in states where lawmakers aren’t restricting access.

Some Democratic-led states in the West and Northeast are also proposing public money for an expected influx of people traveling from elsewhere to end pregnancies.

When it opened in 1974, a year after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion nationwide, CHOICES became the first abortion provider in Memphis, a commercial hub for rural Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and southern Missouri.

Carbondale is a three-hour drive north of Memphis and Nashville, the two largest cities in Tennessee. It is also on an Amtrak route from New Orleans to Chicago through areas where access to abortion could disappear, including Mississippi, western Tennessee and western Kentucky.

“Its location and geography were the original reason we were drawn to Carbondale, but the incredible heart of the Carbondale community is what led us to know we had found a second home for CHOICES,” Pepper said in announcing the plan last week. .

The Supreme Court is expected to rule next month in a case that directly challenges Roe. The justices heard arguments in December over a 2018 Mississippi law to ban most abortions after 15 weeks. The court has allowed states to regulate but not prohibit abortion before the point of viability, around 24 weeks.

A leaked draft opinion on May 2 showed that most justices were ready to overturn Roe v. Wade. If the final ruling is similar, states would have wide latitude to restrict abortion. The Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, says it is certain or likely that 26 states will ban abortion if the landmark ruling is weakened or overturned.

Diane Derzis is the owner of Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization. She told The Associated Press that the clinic, also known as the Pink House, will close if Roe is struck down because Mississippi has a “trigger” law to automatically ban abortions.

Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the nation, and women would face even greater hurdles in accessing abortion: arranging time off from work, finding ways to pay for travel and lodging, and, in many cases, arranging for the child care while pregnant. gone.

“Mississippi is a prime example of what is going to happen to the women of this country,” Derzis said. ”Those who have the means will be able to fly to New York. Poor women and women of color will desperately try to find the nearest clinic.”

Derzis said an abortion clinic he owns in Columbus, Georgia, would also close quickly if Roe goes missing, and he thinks a clinic he owns in Richmond, Virginia could stay open for another year or so.

Derzis said she plans to open an abortion clinic soon in Las Cruces, New Mexico, about an hour’s drive north of El Paso, Texas. Since Texas enacted a law last year banning most abortions at around six weeks, women have traveled to New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana and other states to terminate pregnancies.

“You can’t stop a woman who is pregnant and doesn’t want to have a baby,” Derzis said.

An association of abortion providers, the National Abortion Federation, provides health and travel information and money to pregnant women who have to travel for abortions. The federation’s director of programs, Melissa Fowler, said many lives will be affected.

“The reality for a lot of people in the country is going to be commute days, days off work,” Fowler said. “Even if we fully fund someone’s trip, some people’s lives just don’t allow them to make the trip.”

Jennifer Allen, executive director of the Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, which covers Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky and Washington, said that even in states like Washington where there is strong support for abortion rights, “it will take a lot more to be ready for the future.”

Washington has more than 30 abortion clinics, though only five are east of the Cascade Mountains, in the most conservative part of the state. Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee signed a measure this year authorizing physician assistants, advanced registered nurse practitioners and other providers acting within their scope of practice to perform abortions. Abortion rights supporters said that would help meet demand from out-of-state patients.

Allen said it’s impossible to predict how many out-of-state residents will seek care in Washington, but the increase could be in the thousands. She said reproductive rights advocates are working to anticipate needs.

“We’re building this plane as we fly it,” Allen said.

In response to the leaked Supreme Court draft, Inslee promised that Washington would provide sanctuary for those seeking abortions. Her office said discussions are underway about a variety of possibilities. But the Legislature isn’t likely to meet again before its regular session begins in January.

Last week, California Governor Gavin Newsom proposed $57 million in funding for abortion on top of the $68 million proposed in January. The Democrat said the new proposals include $40 million to pay for abortions for women not covered by Medicaid or private insurance, $15 million for a public education campaign, $1 million for a website listing abortion services and $1 million to investigate unmet reproductive health needs. care services.

Newsom has already signed legislation to make abortions cheaper for people with private insurance, and the Legislature is considering other bills to increase abortion access, including proposals to allow more nurse practitioners to perform them.

New York will make $35 million available for abortion services and safety, Governor Kathy Hochul announced last week. She said some of that money could be spent on abortions for out-of-state residents traveling to New York.

In March, Oregon lawmakers approved $15 million to pay for abortions and support services, such as travel and lodging for in-state and out-of-state patients who travel long distances, and to expand the availability of abortion services. Details are still being discussed, including the possibility of mobile clinics or hiring more workers for existing clinics.

“We know that Oregon is likely going to be a place that people will be forced to travel to for care,” said An Do, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon.

The Guttmacher Institute reported that Oregon could see a 234% increase in the number of women coming from other states, many from Idaho, if the court overturns Roe v. Wade.

Overwhelming Democratic majorities in the Illinois General Assembly have been preparing for a Roe reversal for years, particularly as the state would be an island amid restricted neighbors.

In 2017, Illinois passed public funding for abortion and repealed a 1975 “activation” law. The state’s Reproductive Health Act of 2019 established the fundamental right of individuals to make their own decisions about contraception and abortion. Starting June 1, minors will no longer be required to notify a parent or guardian before undergoing an abortion, a move that abortion rights advocates called the last hurdle to unrestricted access in Illinois.

“We have been preparing for the day Roe falls and we are ready,” said Yamelsie Rodriguez, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis and Southwest Missouri region.

Fowler, of the National Abortion Federation, said that while providers in states without restrictive abortion laws “are doing everything they can to preserve and expand access, the current system simply doesn’t have the capacity to handle the number of patients we need.” They will be left unattended.” .”

“We need to be as creative and robust in our solutions as our opponents have been in designing these terrible restrictions,” he said.


The Court reported from Olympia, Washington. Adam Beam in Sacramento, Calif.; Marina Villeneuve in Albany, New York; Sara Cline in Salem, Oregon, and John O’Connor in Springfield, Illinois contributed.


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