WA Planned Parenthood Clinics Prepare for Surge as Idaho, Other States Restrict Abortion


Planned Parenthood clinics in Washington and Oregon are preparing for a potential surge in patients seeking abortions and reproductive care, as the end of Roe v. Wade looms and Republican-led states push to restrict or ban abortion.

Last month, Idaho passed a law that allows family members of a woman who gets an abortion, or of the potential father, to sue the abortion provider. It was slated to go into effect in two weeks, but the Idaho Supreme Court on Friday halted the law as it considers a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood.

The Idaho law, which restricts abortions after six weeks — before many women know they are pregnant — is modeled after a similar Texas law that the U.S. Supreme Court has let stand.

Planned Parenthoods in Washington have seen patients from Texas seeking abortions here, since that state's restrictive abortion law went into effect in September, said Rebecca Gibron, acting CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawaii, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky.

"We are, right now, working to stabilize all of our health centers, shore up access, lean into telehealth for birth control, contraceptive access, and ensuring that patients who need abortion access in Washington, we will be here for them to get it," Gibron said at a news conference Friday in Seattle.

Dr. Erin Berry, Washington medical director for Planned Parenthood, said they've begun investing more resources and staff into their call centers and into patient navigators, who can help out-of-state patients access abortions.

"It's not just getting the appointment, it's getting them to the appointment and getting them home," Berry said.

Berry said each of their 15 sites in Washington has seen patients from Texas. She described it as a "ripple effect," as abortion access plummeted in Texas and demand in neighboring states surged, which meant longer wait times, which meant patients seeking care farther away.

"People who are able to fly say, 'OK, where can I fly, where do I have family to stay with,' " Berry said.

The preparations come as Democratic and Republican-led states take wildly divergent paths before what both parties anticipate could be the end of Roe v. Wade this summer.

Some Republican-led states have been passing legislation aimed at making abortion illegal in as many circumstances as possible, while Democratic-led states, anticipating an influx of patients, have been trying to ease access as much as possible.

Officials announced this week the restoration of about $4.5 million in federal Title X funding for Washington Planned Parenthoods and other reproductive health centers. Planned Parenthood had withdrawn from the Title X program in 2019, after the Trump administration barred organizations from receiving funding if they provide abortions or refer patients to other organizations that provide abortions.

In the wake of Trump's move, Washington used state funds to replace the lost Title X funding, which is used to provide things like birth control, cancer screenings, HIV tests and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.

The Biden administration last year reversed the Trump Title X policy.

The Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights, estimates that 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, which it could do this summer. Those states include Idaho and Montana.

If Roe is overturned, Washington could see a 385% increase in incoming patients whose nearest abortion provider is in Washington, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

"The impact of abortion bans, like the one in Idaho, don't stop at state lines," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who attended Friday's news conference. "And its providers and patients in Washington who have to bear the brunt of the health care crisis that Republican attacks inevitably create."

Washington has, for more than three decades, guaranteed abortion access regardless of the status of Roe. Initiative 120, passed narrowly by voters in 1991, stated "Every woman has the fundamental right to choose or refuse to have an abortion" before viability.

Just this year, in response to Texas' restrictive abortion law, Washington passed a law prohibiting legal action against people who seek an abortion. The new law also explicitly allows physician assistants and advanced registered nurse practitioners to perform abortions.

Oregon recently approved $15 million in new funding to help cover costs of patients traveling from out of state to get an abortion. And California recently passed a law intending to make abortions cheaper for people with private health insurance.

Murray, who is running for reelection, saw little likelihood for legislative action on abortion access at the federal level. She noted that Democrats have pushed a bill to enshrine Roe v. Wade into federal law, but it failed to gain 50 votes in the Senate, much less the 60 needed to overcome a Republican filibuster.

"It's not like you ban abortion and no one's going to get an abortion," Murray said. "Why do I know that? Because I was in college before Roe v. Wade. Women got abortions when I was in high school and when I was in college. Where did they get them? On some back-street doctor, alley, or were taken away somewhere. That kind of care will be provided, it will be costly and it will be dangerous."