SEATTLE — While the nation waits for the Supreme Court’s opinion on a blockbuster abortion case that could overturn Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood of Washington is getting ready for an increase in out-of-state patients seeking an abortion.
“We are already seeing patients from Texas, from Oklahoma. I saw a patient a couple of weeks ago from Alabama,” said Dr. Erin Berry, gynecologist and Washington state medical director of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands.
Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest said it’s working to see which locations in Washington could open up for additional days if needed and upping its patient navigation teams, which help patients with appointments and travel arrangements.
Twenty-six states are likely to have total or near-total bans on abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Idaho’s trigger law bans all abortions with exceptions for rape, incest and if the mother’s life is at risk.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights think tank, 230,000 patients could travel across state lines from Idaho seeking an abortion.
Berry said it’s expensive for patients to travel across the country to access medical care and fears for funding in the long term.
The looming decision is creating uncertainty for more than just patients. The Washington Medical Commission, which regulates physician license in Washington, said if Roe v. Wade is overturned it could raise practice concerns for Washington licensees.
“If the Supreme Court rules the way it looked like it was, that's going to cause a lot of confusion in a medical, legal landscape," said Washington Medical Commission Deputy Executive and Legislative Director Micah Matthews. “The pandemic has greatly extended [the medical field's] reach through telemedicine or getting licenses through compacts and surging into other states to help health systems in need.”
The Washington Medical Commission, along with the Board of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery, Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission and Pharmacy Quality Assurance Commission, released a jointly written a FAQ to address concerns.
“We want to just be clear that when it comes to [the commission] considering an application, or a complaint that we received, what matters is Washington law," said Matthews.
No matter the ruling, abortion in Washington will remain legal.
In 2022, access to abortion expanded in Washington state, Matthews pointed out. Effective June 9, 2022, the state's legal language changed from a "woman" to "pregnant individual."
Seattle City Council also passed a resolution last month to allocate funds from the 2022 supplemental budget to expand access to reproductive health care. An exact dollar amount has not been given yet but is expected to be discussed in committee in July.
When asked if there are any plans for more state funding to accommodate an influx of patients, a spokesperson for Gov. Jay Inslee's office said, “We are speaking with legislators and providers about a range of additional policies and resources that would ensure we can provide abortion services to any person seeking them in Washington. The governor is fully committed to making sure we protect patients’ abortion rights and expand access.”
Access, Berry believes, is a fundamental right.
“It feels like a violation of a physician's oath to deny this care to people," Berry said. "And to know that that's going to be happening on a widespread scale, it's really intense and really sad."