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June 25, 2022

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Washington abortion providers prepare for more out-of-state patients as Roe decision looms

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Dr. Anuj Khattar knew the decision was coming.

What he and other abortion providers didn’t know was how soon they would get word that Roe v. Wade would likely be overturned — the thrust of a draft U.S. Supreme Court decision leaked Monday night.

Now, amid sadness, anger and disbelief, providers and activists are hastening plans to make Washington a safe haven for women from other states who are seeking abortions here instead of at home. That’s because the Supreme Court decision would overturn federal abortion protections and require individual states to set their own laws governing access to the procedure.

Dozens of states already have or are expected to pass legislation banning abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned. But Washington laws would remain unchanged, and advocates are pursuing measures that range from increasing abortion clinic staff to setting aside money for women to travel to Washington to enacting stronger legal protections for abortion providers.

“No matter what the Supreme Court decides, abortion will continue to be legal and available to all in Washington state,” Katie Rodihan, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, Hawaii, Alaska, Indiana and Kentucky said in an email. “We stand with open arms, ready to provide care to care to patients across the country who need it.”

Meanwhile, some are heartened by the Supreme Court’s leaked draft opinion and would like to see abortion access scaled back in Washington— which passed a law legalizing abortion in the first four months of pregnancy in 1970, three years before the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade. In 1991, Washington went further by codifying Roe and establishing a right to abortion up to the point of fetal viability.

Roe v. Wade

FILE - Amanda Furdge talks about the contrast of easily finding abortion services when she lived in Illinois and the difficulty of finding the services after she moved back to Mississippi, which has only one abortion clinic, during an interview in Clinton, Miss., on Dec. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. With abortion in jeopardy, minority women have most to lose
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Abortion rights supporters encourage passing drivers to honk their car horns Tuesday evening at a rally outside the Clark County Courthouse. Group gathers at Clark County Courthouse to support abortion rights
A group including state Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, gathered at the Clark County Courthouse Tuesday after abortion rights supporters called for local gatherings at 5…
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks Tuesday, May 3, 2022, at a rally at a park overlooking Seattle. Inslee said that Washington state would remain a pro-choice state and that women would continue to be able to access safe and affordable abortions. (AP Photo/Ted S. Washington Gov. Inslee promises to defend abortion rights
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee decried a draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion that would throw out the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling and said…

“I’m hoping for a day when abortion will be banned even in Washington,” said Mark Miloscia, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington.

But the state’s Democratic leaders, in anticipation of the Supreme Court overturning Roe, have so far been moving in the other direction, passing a bill signed by Gov. Jay Inslee last month that prevents legal action against women seeking abortions or those who aid them in doing so.

It isn’t clear how many women from elsewhere might come to Washington, though the Guttmacher Institute estimates the state could see a 385% increase in abortion patients. Already, local providers are getting patients from states like Texas that have enacted abortion restrictions, said Khattar, a family medicine doctor who provides abortions at Cedar River Clinics in the Seattle area.

But Deborah Oyer, Cedar River’s medical director, noted many women prefer to drive when traveling for abortions, and the procedure will remain legal in most states within driving distance.

An exception is Idaho, where a law triggered by an end to Roe would make it a crime to perform an abortion after a heartbeat is detected. Another Idaho law, tied up in litigation, would allow family members of a woman who gets an abortion, or the potential father, to sue an abortion provider.

Still, Oyer is expecting an increase in patients and has been talking with Cedar River colleagues about gearing up and hiring more staff. She said many abortion providers will be looking for work because of looming bans elsewhere and that Cedar River may be able to hire local doctors who have been traveling to states where abortion will be banned, should the Supreme Court overturn Roe.

Washington doctors can also mail abortion pills to women in states that allow that practice, though Oyer said that would require practitioners to become licensed in those states.

As more women turn to Washington for abortions, some believe the state should set aside funding to help with expenses and increase abortion access. They look to Oregon’s recent allocation of $15 million for that purpose.

A burgeoning regional coalition is working on proposals for Washington’s next legislative session, said Kim Clark, a senior attorney at Legal Voice, an advocacy group that’s part of the coalition.

The coalition is also discussing proposals that would forestall a possible backlash from anti-abortion groups and officials from other states.

While the recent Washington bill offers some protection for providers, Clark said it does not negate state laws that require cooperation with legal proceedings in other states — honoring extradition requests and recognizing subpoena power, for example.

The coalition, inspired by a Connecticut bill, is talking about raising that issue, as well as others — like ensuring malpractice insurance rates don’t go up for local abortion providers.

“We know the anti-abortion movement is not going to stop at outlawing abortions in anti-abortion states,” Clark said. “We are anticipating that they will be seeking to assert jurisdiction over abortions that take place either partially or even entirely outside their borders.”

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