Dec 3, 2021 - Health

Overturning Roe could strain abortion access even in blue states

The US Supreme Court is reflected in a woman's sunglasses as protesters take part in the Women's March and Rally for Abortion Justice at the US Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court is reflected in a woman's sunglasses during a march Oct. 2. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, abortions could be harder to access even in states where they remain legal, because those clinics could be flooded with patients from states that have cracked down.

The big picture: This has happened before, and clinics fear the crush of demand would be a major problem in the immediate wake of a decision that would allow states to ban abortion.

What they're saying: Abortion clinics in states that border Texas saw an enormous surge in out-of-state patients after Texas banned nearly all abortions earlier this year.

  • "After the Texas ban went into effect Sept. 1, our members in Oklahoma saw a huge influx of Texas patients and quickly became booked up for several weeks," said Melissa Fowler, chief program officer at the National Abortion Federation.
  • "This makes it harder for patients in those states to access the care they need, so there is a real ripple effect," Fowler said.

By the numbers: Planned Parenthood health centers in Oklahoma saw more than 250 patients with Texas ZIP codes seeking abortion in September — compared to single digits in the previous year.

  • Overall, Planned Parenthood clinics in New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas saw a 1,082% increase in the number of patients with Texas ZIP codes compared to September 2019 and 2020, officials said.
  • Clinics in Arkansas and Louisiana were also hit with an uptick in patients, the New York Times wrote earlier this fall.

Driving the news: The Supreme Court heard a challenge this week to a Mississippi law that bans nearly all abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy.

  • The case is a direct challenge to Roe. Oral arguments indicated that the justices are likely to allow states to pursue new abortion restrictions, and perhaps to fully overturn Roe.
  • 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion if the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

"Think about that. That's not many states — less than half the states — that have abortion access. So there's going to be this [displacement] that people living in those states are going to feel," said Meera Shah, the chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic in New York.

  • "Right now, I can see somebody in New York the same day," she said. "That may not be the case if a state near me makes abortion illegal because Roe is overturned. That is actually a very real concern."
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