Jun 23, 2022 - News

Virginia abortion providers prep for influx of out-of-state patients

Data: Myers Abortion Facility Database on OSF; Map: Thomas Oide and Sara Wise/Axios
Data: Myers Abortion Facility Database on OSF; Map: Thomas Oide and Sara Wise/Axios

Abortion providers and activists are prepping for an influx of out-of-state patients to Virginia if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Why it matters: Abortion providers in Virginia say they're already operating near capacity, which means women seeking abortions here are already facing waits for appointments.

  • "So how are we going to welcome the people who are going to be displaced?" Amy Hagstrom Miller, the director of Whole Woman's Health, which operates two clinics in Virginia, tells Axios.

Driving the news: A leaked draft opinion showed the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, which would allow states to drastically restrict or even ban abortion.

  • Neighboring Kentucky has a trigger law that would immediately ban abortion if the court acts.
  • And advocates consider West Virginia likely to bar abortion, noting the state still has a law on the books criminalizing all abortions that could be enforced if Roe is thrown out.

What's happening: Hagstrom Miller's two clinics, in Charlottesville and Alexandria, are among 16 total in Virginia that provide abortions.

  • She said she is already serving people living in West Virginia and Kentucky, each of which has just one provider.
  • The Guttmacher Institute, which advocates in favor of abortion access, estimates the number of women seeking abortions in Virginia could increase more than 200% post-Roe.

In anticipation of that increase, Hagstrom Miller says she's looking at ways to increase capacity at her existing clinics as well as potentially opening a new location in far southwestern Virginia to reduce travel times from Kentucky and other Southern states that limit access.

  • But she tells Axios one of the biggest barriers she faces is finding local providers willing to work in her clinics.
  • Even in overwhelmingly liberal Charlottesville, she said she relies on a physician who drives down from the D.C. area because local doctors don't want to risk the harassment providers can face.

Meanwhile, pro-abortion groups have been expanding beyond political advocacy into more practical efforts to help connect women with providers.

  • NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia recently rebranded as REPRO Rising Virginia and launched a volunteer network to drive low-income women to appointments.
  • "There are people who may find the funds, may find the provider, but getting there is a real challenge," Tarina Keene, the organization's director, tells Axios. She said the organization has trained dozens of volunteers and averages 15 to 20 calls a month seeking help getting to appointments.
  • The organization is also working to recruit more abortion providers "in the hopes of reaching a critical mass able to meet the expected surge in need," she says.

The other side: Abortion opponents in Virginia are celebrating the expected Supreme Court decision, but said it won't change their advocacy work.

Abortion opponents' immediate goals in Virginia are to restore restrictions repealed by Virginia Democrats in 2020, which ended mandatory ultrasounds and 24-hour waiting periods prior to abortions, Victoria Cobb, the director of the Virginia Family Foundation, tells Axios.

  • The next step, she said, would likely be to pursue a ban on abortions after 20 weeks.
  • Those restrictions would be legal regardless of the status of Roe.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include Amy Hagstrom Miller's middle name.


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