Jun 23, 2023 - Health

Safe haven states scramble to accommodate non-resident abortions

Note: Includes abortions provided by clinics, private medical offices, hospitals and virtual-only clinics. Months with less than 10 abortions are represented as 0; Data: #WeCount/Society of Family Planning and Census Bureau; Map: Jacque Schrag/Axios

In the year since the Supreme Court's Dobbs ruling, Planned Parenthood Minnesota's clinics have performed more abortions on out-of-state patients, along with more second-trimester abortions that are typically outlawed by conservative-led states, officials say.

Why it matters: Minnesota is one of at least a dozen states that have passed laws to accommodate out-of-state patients — becoming safe havens to non-residents trying to access the procedure while grappling with increased demand later in pregnancies.

What they're saying: "We've seen this bottleneck of patients who are trying to fit into appointments in states where abortion is accessible," Sarah Traxler, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood North Central States, told reporters during a press call.

  • "Every time you put a barrier in front of someone who is seeking an abortion, it prolongs their gestational age, and sometimes it's too many barriers and they can't actually access the abortion," she said.

By the numbers: A total of 20 states have moved to ban or restrict abortion in the last year while 25 states have measures in place to protect abortion rights.

State of play: In Planned Parenthood clinics in Minnesota, as well as Iowa and Nebraska, there was an 11% increase in second-trimester abortions in the last year, Traxler said.

  • She attributes that to obstacles facing patients who can't access the procedure where they live.
  • Planned Parenthood of Illinois saw the number of abortion patients increase by 54%, with individuals traveling from 34 different states, officials said. More than 13% of abortions there are taking place after 16 weeks, compared to 8% before the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, organization officials said.
  • The number of patients needing financial assistance to get care in Illinois has also doubled, they said.
  • Abortion clinics in central and eastern Washington state noticed a big influx in out-of-state patients in recent months, particularly from Idaho, Karl Eastlund, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, told Axios.
  • Since August, when Idaho implemented a near-total abortion ban, the organization has seen about 100 more abortion visits per month — about a 20% to 30% increase, Eastlund said.
  • He called that increase "profound" given that, before last year, the Washington clinics had "seen abortion numbers going down, since we have been doing so much work with birth control."
  • While second-trimester abortions remain a small portion of the abortions provided at his organization's 11 clinics in Washington, "there has been an absolute increase," he added.

Between the lines: The rise in abortions in safe haven states didn't offset the dropoff in procedures in those states with bans, per the Society for Family Planning, which estimates there were about 26,000 fewer abortions in the first nine months since the Dobbs decision.

Zoom in: Providers that have seen more out-of-state patients have expanded capacity, using telemedicine and mailing medication abortion pills for in-state residents.

  • They've also invested in new clinics and have made training for providing medication abortion an "automatic part of the orientation" for new providers, Traxler said.
  • In Washington, Eastlund's organization has increased its staffing by about 10 people, including adding two patient navigators that assist patients from out of state, he said. They've also added hours, sometimes by shifting time in the schedule away from other women's health or family planning services, Eastlund added.

Zoom out: Since the fall of Roe v. Wade last June until May 2023, the National Abortion Federation saw "an unprecedented increase in the need for travel funding for individuals seeking abortion care," according to a new report.

Axios' Chicago reporter Justin Kaufman and Axios' Seattle reporter Melissa Santos contributed to this report.

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