Voters kept abortion legal in Kansas, but clinics can’t keep up | KCUR 89.3

WICHITA, Kansas — Abortion remains legal, though strictly restricted, in Kansas. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to get a date.

On the sidewalk in front of the Trust Women clinic in Wichita, anti-abortion protesters yell at cars pulling into the parking lot, registering their license plates.

Most come 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 seeking dates out of state.

It started last year, when Texas enacted a law that bans abortion before most women know they’re pregnant. Another spike came in May, when Oklahoma became the first state to outright ban abortion. And then it reached a fever pitch this summer, after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

“As soon as the decision was made, we fully anticipated, especially with the number of states around us with activation bans, to see an increase,” said Ashley Brink, director of the Trust Women clinic. “And we’ve absolutely seen an increase not only in call volume, but also in the number of patients.”

Anti-abortion protester Mike Hagan searches the license plates of cars entering Trust Women.

Anti-abortion protester Mike Hagan searches the license plates of cars entering Trust Women.

She said that patients who come from further afield tend to be further along in their pregnancies, sometimes having already been turned away by various other clinics. That means they often need more complicated procedures.

The new reality has changed everything for the staff, even small talk.

“Three years ago, two years ago, what we were talking 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, medical director of the clinic. “Compared to now, our small talk has changed: ‘How far did you drive? Where are you from?'”

It means they are rejecting more women. Often, Brink has to tell patients to call back in a few weeks, or to try their luck at other clinics in other states.

If a patient is from Kansas, I could refer them to a clinic in Colorado. If someone is calling from Texas or Oklahoma, the closest alternative might be in New Mexico. Arkansas and Louisiana women could be sent to Illinois.

“Their next best options are going to be coastlines, if they can fly,” he said. “And we know that’s not feasible for everyone.”

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Trust Women is hiring more staff and making renovations to be able to serve more patients. But the staff is serious about what a clinic can handle in the face of an explosion in demand.

“We could really be providing abortion services 24 hours a day and not meet the demand,” Bourne said. “At the end of the day, we are also human. People have families. People have lives to attend to. We’re in this for the long haul, and if we get burned running out the door, it’s not going to be sustainable for us.”

The number of out-of-state patients coming to Trust Women has increased since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v.  Wade.

The number of out-of-state patients coming to Trust Women has increased since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Demand for Kansas clinics is likely to increase as more states tighten abortion restrictions in the post-Roe era.

“Our entire region is struggling to figure out how to meet (demand) because Kansas is a really essential hotspot 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 birth control, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and transgender hormone therapy.

But Wales said finding doctors for the three Planned Parenthood sites in Kansas remains a challenge.

“Care is not without scrutiny, oversight and fear, even in Kansas,” he said. “People ask us about that when they consider working with us.”

It also launched a new Wichita-based patient navigation center to help people navigate the practical and emotional challenges associated with seeking abortion across state lines, something Wales said became important after of the fall of Roe.

“We went from having a couple of staff members who were called to take care of patients who had more complicated questions to having a multi-person team across four states trying to help patients figure out the logistics,” he said.

The Center for Abortion and Reproductive Equity will help people understand the patchwork of restrictions across the region and help coordinate funding and travel. It’s hiring social workers to help distressed callers, something the clinics are seeing more and more of as women face difficulties related to things like getting time off work. Sometimes the need for out-of-state travel forces them to disclose their abortion to people who otherwise would not have told them.

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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 abortion.

    “We could really be providing abortion services 24 hours a day and not meet the demand,” said Christina Bourne, medical director of Trust Women.

“We could really be providing abortion services 24 hours a day and not meet the demand,” said Christina Bourne, medical director of Trust Women.

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

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

In Colorado, telemedicine abortion provider JustThePill, which offers abortion pills by mail in Minnesota, Montana and Wyoming, recently opened a new mobile clinic in a van.

Due to safety concerns, Medical Director Julie Amaon would not say where in the state the clinic is located or exactly what it looks like.

“They are very nondescript. They don’t have any logo on them. They look like any other big truck you’d see on the road, by the way,” he said. “You wouldn’t be able to tell, ‘That looks like a mobile health clinic,’ from the outside.”

If you live in a state like Kansas that has banned prescribing abortion pills in lieu of telemedicine, you can drive across the state line into Colorado, talk to a doctor from your car, and then pick up the abortion pills from a safe deposit box in the backyard. back of the truck.

“We can be very agile 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. Amaon later said the group’s sights are set on Kansas.

But abortion trips cost money.

The price 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 to cover abortion in most cases. And that’s not counting things like flights, hotels, and childcare.

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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 who come to Kansas for abortion services that there can be a wait time of two to three weeks, and that will lead to an increase in the cost of the procedure,” he said.

A few weeks can mean the difference between abortion pills or a surgical abortion. Or it could mean the difference between a simple one-day procedure and a more complicated two-day procedure, making 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 reservations, transportation, lodging. We send people money for food, childcare, medicine,” said Alison Dreith, director of strategic partnerships for the group. “We put it all on our credit cards so customers don’t have to use a credit card. Many of our clients don’t even have credit cards.”

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

Abortion rights advocates say the support is especially critical for black women, who are nationally almost three times more likely to die of childbirth-related complications as white women.

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

“Black women and brown women need access to options, not only because we are more likely to die in childbirth, but because it is a human right. And it is a human right that we have had less access to all this time.”

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

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