How California abortion clinics are responding to the surge of out-of-state patients (2022)

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Camryn Pak

How California abortion clinics are responding to the surge of out-of-state patients (13)

For Planned Parenthood Pacific Southwest, which serves San Diego, Riverside and Imperial counties, seeing out-of-state patients is the new norm. In the month since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and stripped Americans of the constitutional right to obtain an abortion, out-of-state patients have made up 21% of abortion visits, a 513% increase, a spokesperson said.

Planned Parenthood Northern California hasn’t seen as dramatic a surge, but is also serving more out-of-state patients. It used to see a couple of out-of-state patients per month. Now, its clinics see three to four patients traveling across state lines every week.

Several California clinics providing abortion services told The Chronicle they are adding new staffers, expanding hours and making other changes to accommodate the increased demand.

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“We knew that it was likely that this was coming down the pipeline,” said Gloria Martinez, Planned Parenthood Northern California senior director of operations. “We’ve been planning for this as soon as we got word of the SCOTUS leak” ahead of the Supreme Court decision.

Planned Parenthood Northern California created a new position this month — a patient navigator whose role is to help out-of-state abortion seekers navigate reproductive health care services in the Golden State. The organization said it saw a 10% increase in monthly callers after the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

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Callers from area codes outside of California are automatically flagged for the patient navigator to assist, Martinez said. There’s currently only one navigator servicing Northern California’s 17 Planned Parenthood locations, but Martinez said she may look to hire more should demand rise.

That’s only one of several measures the organization has taken to expand its services.

“We’re looking into not only expanding clinic hours into Saturdays, but also looking into Sundays, which isn’t something we’ve previously had to do,” Martinez said.

FPA Women’s Health, which operates 25 clinics spread across the state, expanded the types of services it offers to handle an increasing number of out-of-state patients. The reproductive health care provider said it is using telehealth appointments to accommodate the surge in demand.

FPA is also offering medication abortion services, in which California patients receive pills in the mail, allowing more openings for surgical appointments for out-of-state patients.

Virtual health care providers like Choix and Hey Jane, which provide telemedicine abortion services, have both fielded more online traffic over the past month. Choix saw a 600% increase in traffic to its site the day the Supreme Court overturned Roe, said Chief Executive Officer Cindy Adam. Hey Jane has seen a 20% increase in patients.

“As with all health care, state residency is not a requirement for accessing care, but people do need to be in the states we serve for their telehealth visits and in order to receive medication,” Adams wrote in an email. “We are actively looking into ways we can help support patients outside of the states we currently serve.”

The San Francisco Department of Public Health also has seen more people from other states inquire about appointments, a spokesperson wrote in an email. The department has provided services to patients from Louisiana, Idaho, Georgia, Tennessee, Arizona, Oklahoma and Texas.

Patients traveling to California from other states face financial and logistical barriers. They don’t have access to MediCal and other state-funded programs, which is why Planned Parenthood locations throughout the state partner with organizations like Access Reproductive Justice to provide financial support. The Oakland agency provides funds for the procedure itself and to help women overcome other practical barriers.

“We want to cover any logistical needs that folks have: gas money, lodging, child care, money for food or to help offset prescription costs,” said Access Healthline Coordinator Sasha, who asked that only her first name be used due to privacy concerns.

One bill currently making its way through the state Legislature, SB1142, would establish a state-administered abortion fund that encourages donations from the private sector. It’s part of a package of abortion-related bills intended to establish California as a safe haven for abortion seekers.

Access primarily assists Californians, though since Roe v. Wade was overturned, the organization has been fielding more calls from outside the state. Most of those trying to obtain services hail from Arizona, Texas and Nevada, but Access has also fielded calls from Mississippi, Minnesota and Georgia, Sasha said. (Abortion is legal in Minnesota and Nevada.)

For comparison, Access helped four callers from Arizona in April — two months before the SCOTUS decision, Sasha said. This month, the organization helped 14 Arizonans.

There has also been a significant increase in the number of people wanting to volunteer at Access, Sasha said. The organization had to pause receiving submissions for volunteers because it received 3,000 in the past month: a huge jump from its normal 50.

Access also plans to hire more staff. The organization hired two new employees to handle calls starting next month.

(Video) How Roe v. Wade reversal will impact out-of-state abortion clinics

Though the Supreme Court decision dramatically limited access to abortion services across the country, people have been traveling across state lines for reproductive health services for years. Earlier this month, the Guttmacher Institute released a report that found that even before Roe was overturned, nearly 1 in 10 abortion-seekers crossed state lines to obtain the procedure.

The proportion of abortion patients traveling out of state for reproductive health care increased steadily from 2011 to 2020, according to the report. That time period also saw a record-breaking number of state abortion restrictions, Senior Research Associate Isaac Maddow-Zimet said.

“Clearly, abortion restrictions were driving quite a bit of this,” Maddow-Zimet said. “Most of the increase in the proportion of people obtaining abortions traveling out of state was really focused in on those states that were really hostile to abortion rights.”

But since the Dobbs decision, more states have further restricted or eliminated access to abortion services.

“And that means people are going to have to travel a lot farther to obtain care,” Maddow-Zimet said.

Camryn Pak is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: camryn.pak@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @camrynpak

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