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Voters have kept abortion legal in Kansas, but clinics can’t keep up

WICHITA, Kansas — Abortion remains legal, although strictly limited, in Kansas. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to get an appointment.

On the sidewalk outside the Trust Women’s Clinic in Wichita, anti-abortion protesters shout at cars heading into the parking lot, registering their license plates.

Most are from out of state now, after abortion bans in states like Texas and Oklahoma sent women across state lines – so much so that some Kansas women find themselves looking for dates out of state.

It started last year, when Texas enacted a law banning abortion before most women knew they were pregnant. Another push came in May, when Oklahoma became the first state to outright ban abortion. And then it came to a head this summer, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

“As soon as the decision was made, we expected to see an increase – especially with the number of states around us with trigger bans –,” said Ashley Brink, director of the Trust Women Clinic. “And we’ve absolutely seen an increase not only in call volume, but also in patient numbers.”

Anti-abortion protester Mike Hagan records license plates of cars entering Women’s Trust.

She said patients from further afield tend to be further along in their pregnancies, sometimes having already been turned away by several other clinics. This means that they often require more complex procedures.

The new reality has changed everything for the staff, down to the chatter.

“Three years ago, two years ago, what we talked about with patients was like, ‘Where are you going to eat next?’ Because the people were local people accessing care in their state,” said Christina Bourne, the clinic’s medical director. “Compared to now, our little discussion has changed: ‘How far have you travelled? Where do you come from?'”

This means that they refuse more women. Often, Brink has to tell patients to call back in a few weeks — or try their luck at other clinics in other states.

If a patient is from Kansas, she can refer him to a clinic in Colorado. If someone is calling from Texas or Oklahoma, the closest alternative might be New Mexico. Women from Arkansas and Louisiana could be referred to Illinois.

“Their next best options will be ribs, if they can fly,” she said. “And we know that’s not feasible for everyone.”

Trust Women is hiring more staff and making renovations so they can see more patients. But staff are sober about what a clinic can handle in the face of an explosion in demand.

“We could really provide 24-hour abortion care and we wouldn’t meet the demand,” Bourne said. “At the end of the day, we are humans too. People have families. People have lives to live. We’re here for the long haul, and if we wear ourselves out sprinting from the start, it won’t be sustainable for us.

The number of out-of-state patients coming to Women's Trust has increased since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v.  Wade.
The number of out-of-state patients coming to Women’s Trust has increased since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Demand at Kansas clinics will only increase as more states tighten restrictions on abortion in the post-Roe era.

“Our whole region is struggling to figure out how to meet the (demand) because Kansas is a really critical access point for care right now,” said Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood. Great Plains, which covers Kansas, Missouri. , Oklahoma and Arkansas.

To help meet demand, the organization opened a new clinic in Kansas City, Kansas, this summer. In addition to medical abortions, the clinic offers contraceptives, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and transgender hormone therapy.

But Wales said finding doctors for Planned Parenthood’s three Kansas sites remains a challenge.

“Care is not unexamined, unsupervised, and fearless, including in Kansas,” she said. “People ask us about it when they’re considering working with us.”

He also launched a new Patient Navigation Center, headquartered in Wichita, to help people navigate the practical and emotional challenges associated with seeking an abortion across state lines — which, according to Wales, became important after the fall of Roe.

“We went from a few staff members who would be called in for patients who had more complicated questions, to a multi-person team in four states trying to help patients understand the logistics,” she said.

The Center for Abortion and Reproductive Equity will help people understand the patchwork of restrictions in the region and help coordinate funding and travel. It hires social workers to help callers in distress, which clinics are seeing more and more as women face challenges over things like missing work. Sometimes the need for out-of-state travel forces them to disclose their abortion to people they wouldn’t otherwise tell.

Wales wants the center to help the most vulnerable patients, especially those from communities of color and rural areas, who often face additional barriers to getting an abortion.

“We really could provide round-the-clock abortion care and we wouldn’t be meeting the demand,” said Christina Bourne, medical director of Women’s Trust.

Planned Parenthood joins a handful of groups helping organize abortions across the Midwest in a post-Roe world.

Elevated Access, which launched this spring, has recruited some 800 volunteer pilots to ferry patients across state lines on private planes. In June, the first flight took a woman from Oklahoma to a clinic in Kansas City.

In Colorado, telemedicine abortion provider JustThePill — it offers mail-order abortion pills in Minnesota, Montana and Wyoming — recently opened a new mobile clinic from a van.

For security reasons, Medical Director Julie Amaon will not say where the clinic is or what it looks like exactly.

“They are very indescribable. They have no logo on them. They look like any other big van you’d see on the road — on purpose,” she said. “You wouldn’t be able to say, ‘this looks like a mobile health clinic,’ from the outside.”

If you live in a state like Kansas that has banned the prescription of abortion pills via telemedicine, you can cross the state line to Colorado, speak to a doctor from your car, and then pick up abortion pills from a locked box. at the back of the van.

“We can be very nimble and change based on where patients need us most,” Amaon said.

JustThePill is raising funds to open mobile clinics in Illinois by the end of the year. Afterwards, Amaon said the group’s sights were on Kansas.

But abortion trips cost money.

The cost of an abortion can range from several hundred dollars for a medical abortion to several thousand for a surgical procedure. In Kansas, most people have to pay out of pocket because of laws that prohibit public and private health insurance cover abortion in most cases. And that doesn’t count things like flights, hotels, and childcare.

Sandy Brown, president of the Kansas Abortion Fund, said there has been an increase in requests for help this year.

“There are so many people coming to Kansas for abortion care that there can be a two to three week wait time, and that will create a slight increase in the cost of the procedure,” he said. she declared.

A few weeks could be the difference between abortion pills or a surgical abortion. Or it can mean the difference between a simple one-day procedure and something more complicated, over two days, which makes the procedure itself and the additional expenses more expensive.

Due to overcrowding at local clinics, more Kansas women are traveling out of state. That’s why the fund recently partnered with the Midwest Access Coalition, an Illinois-based group that helps people pay for and coordinate abortion-related travel.

“We do all the bookings, transportation, accommodation. We send money to people for food, childcare, medicine,” said Alison Dreith, the group’s director of strategic partnerships. “We put everything on our credit cards so customers don’t have to use a credit card. Many of our customers don’t even have a credit card.

“I had someone in Arkansas last week go to Chicago; she cost $2,500 for hands-on support. And some people only need $25 for a friend to pay for gas to drive them.

Abortion rights advocates say support is especially critical for black women – who are nationwide almost three times more likely to die childbirth complications as white women.

“We know from experience that if someone has an unplanned pregnancy and they want an abortion, for people of color, financial barriers really come into play,” said Sapphire Garcia-Lies, founder of Kansas Birth Justice, a non-profit organization that attempts to reduce birth inequalities in black and brown communities.

“Black women and brown women need to have options, not just because we’re more likely to die in childbirth, but because it’s a human right. And it is a human right to which we have always had less access.

Rose Conlon reports on health for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter at @rosebconlon or email her at [email protected]

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