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Is Washington ready to be an abortion 'safe haven' promised by lawmakers?

As the fallout from the overturning of Roe vs. Wade continues, local clinics are calling for more support.

TACOMA, Wash. — Mona Walia has been running her abortion clinic in Tacoma since 2019. As an independent clinic owner, that puts her in a very small club in Washington.

In the four days since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Walia said she’s already getting more calls from around the country, with many people asking if her clinic is still open.

“Washington state only has three independent providers right now that go up to the state’s legal limit for abortion care,” she said.

“We’re seeing patients from Louisiana or calling from there, along with from Idaho and Montana have been really high,” Walia added.

She expects to get even more in the coming months.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, Washington is expected to see a 385% increase in out-of-state patients coming to Washington looking to get an abortion. Data from the Institute said up to 230,000 people could drive from Idaho to Washington to get the procedure if needed.

Other abortion providers in Washington say they’ve also seen an increased amount of calls from outside the state.

Dr. Joseph Ottolenghi said he’s been seeing more out-of-state patients for months. One patient of his was studying in Texas. By the time she found out she was pregnant, she was already past the six-week window where Texas allows for an abortion.

Dr. Ottolenghi believes the ripple effects of Roe v. Wade being overturned may go much further than people looking for medical care in different states.

“When patients are pushed out of their own state to receive abortion care, it also means you’re pushing doctors out of the state,” he said. “There are going to be doctors who leave Wyoming, who leave Idaho, who leave places where they’re not allowed to practice medicine the way they learned to and the way patients deserve care.”

Walia is willing to adjust how her clinic operates to serve the influx of potential patients, and highlights how the majority of abortion procedures in the US are performed in clinics like hers, but the issue comes down to funding.

“Right now, independent providers perform about 55% of abortions throughout the United States, and the number jumps to 77% when abortion gestation goes over 22 weeks,” Walia said. “We as independent providers are the primary specialists in abortion procedures. The problem is a lack of resources because we’re small.”

Walia does say there is reason to hope.

Governor Jay Inslee plans to authorize $1 million in state emergency funding to help people access abortion services. He also plans to debut an executive order telling the Washington State Patrol to not cooperate with other states' legal investigations of abortion providers or patients, and is asking the Legislature to take the same steps.

Walia appreciates the state’s support, but highlights how insurance reimbursement for abortion procedures needs to be improved and providers need full protection from legal ramifications. 

She also called on the whole community to pitch in so Washington can truly become a safe haven.

“Our goal is, if we can get them here, we’ll be able to see them, and we just need people to step up and donate, donate for travel, donate for lodging, open up their homes, things like that so we can see everyone that comes to the state.”

Walia went on to say that currently, her clinic sees around 60 patients a month, but says with enough staffing, space, and income, more patients can be served. She also said that even though the situation is unprecedented, quitting is not an option with so much on the line.

“We’re here to support, and we are not going anywhere. We are not closing,” she said. ”We don’t know what the future holds, but we’re going to make it happen. There’s no other option. We have to see women. We cannot have women dying because they can’t have a safe abortion. That’s just not OK.”

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