Texans Have Been Traveling to Oklahoma for Abortions, But a New Ban Looms There

Texans have been heading north to Oklahoma in large numbers since September when their state passed its six-week abortion bill. Although it has been a crucial access point, Oklahoma is about to pass its own strict abortion ban. Clinics in nearby states are anticipating a new surge of patients seeking care. Many worry that Oklahoman clinics will not be able to provide care for all those who want an abortion.

Oklahoma’s state Senate passed a bill earlier this month that essentially copies the legislation, enforcing a ban on abortions past six weeks through private civil lawsuits that target abortion providers and anyone who “aids and abets” someone obtaining the procedure after that mark. Last week,The House passed a stricter bill. It would use the same model of enforcement but ban all abortions, unless one was being performed to “save the life” of the pregnant person. It would be the country’s strictest active abortion ban if it was passed.

Both bills are awaiting hearings in a second chamber — something local advocates expect could happen as early as next week — and the governor is expected to sign whichever ban reaches his desk first. Both would be effective immediately upon their signing. Much like Texas’ ban, the bills in Oklahoma are expected to survive legal challenges because of their unusual punitive structure, even though they violate the principles established in Roe v. WadeThe 1973 case that guaranteed the right to an abortion, which could be weakened.

The laws would make it impossible for Oklahomans to access abortions. They also have major implications for people who seek abortions in the region. Abortion providers in neighboring states claim the state’s regional infrastructure is inadequate. already been stretched Its limit.

“These state-level laws have an impact that goes beyond their state borders,” said Kari White, the lead investigator of the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, which has studied the impact of Texas’ six-week abortion ban. Since September, approximately 1,400 Texans have traveled to another state to get an abortion. her research. About 45 percent are visiting Oklahoma.

“We are already stretched to our limits trying to see Texas folks,” said Rebecca Tong, the co-executive director for Trust Women, which operates an abortion clinic in Oklahoma City and another Wichita, Kansas. “This? It will make it worse. It will make it much, much worse.”

Since Texas’ abortion ban took effect, the Trust Women Oklahoma City clinic has seen mostly Texans. Wichita’s clinic has seen a combination of Texas-based patients as well as Oklahomans who were already unable to get care in their home state because clinics no longer had enough room for everyone. Kansas is trying to hire more people to meet the demand. Tong said that finding support staff has been a challenge.

And even if the clinic operated at maximum capacity, she fears, it wouldn’t be enough.

“Even if we ran the clinic 24 hours a day 7 days a week, there would be people turned away. There would be people unable to get an appointment, unable to travel and some people who don’t make it to the point of calling a clinic,” Tong said. “It is not easy to reach us right now. It’s not as easy as a simple phone call. People have to call multiple times because our phones are just ringing endlessly — and they have for the past six months.”

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionBoth data from the Guttmacher Institute and other sources suggest that close to 5,000 abortionsOklahoma typically performs these annually. Prior to Texas’ six-week ban taking effect, about 55,000In that state, there were approximately 2,000 abortions each year.

If care is unavailable in Oklahoma, it’s not entirely clear where people will go or who will have capacity. Kansas, located just north of Oklahoma has four clinics. Arkansas, to its east, has three. Both states have seen an increase in patients from Texas. Access to these states is also difficult. Kansas voters are weighing a constitutional amendment this August that would remove the state’s abortion protections. Arkansas has passed a “trigger law” that could close the access to the procedure. Roe v. WadeIt has been overturned.

“It is going to be incredibly difficult for the facilities in these areas to absorb the volume, even if it were just Oklahoma alone,” White said.

Colorado and New Mexico, which are to the west, have less restrictions and could become destinations where people seek abortions. However, providers in these states worry that they may already be at their limit.

“We are trying to absorb as many as we can,” said Dr. Christina Tocce, the medical director of Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountains, who is based in Denver. “But that being said, the sheer volume is formidable. And we are not going to be able to serve every patient that needs abortion care.”

Colorado is facing another challenge. Idaho also has enacted a Texas-inspired six week ban. For patients seeking care, and who can afford the airfare, Boulder or Denver — cities with direct flights to Boise and Idaho Falls – could be the most viable option.

The shortage of providers and the crush of patients is already affecting the quality of care available. Since September, clinics in all the states neighboring Texas and Oklahoma have reported longer wait times for patients seeking an abortion — at least two weeks, if not three. Many patients are forced to move out of the first trimester where medication abortion is an option and into the second trimester when a more costly, more invasive procedure is the only option.

This has a second ripple effect: Surgical procedures are more time-consuming and clinics are already struggling to see everyone.

“What’s going to happen in Oklahoma, it will very likely increase our volume,” said Dr. Eve Espey, who chairs the OB-GYN department at the University of New Mexico and founded its center for reproductive health. “There are only three clinics in Albuquerque that provide abortion care, so there’s a limit. We’re talking about how we can ramp up more. We thought we’d have more medication abortion, and that’s not happening.”

She is worried that the wait times for care will grow longer if there are fewer clinics offering care, pushing more abortions later.

Many people have been allowed to travel for healthcare purposes, even though it has been costly. But increasing restrictions could make those barriers eventually insurmountable, White said – especially for those who cannot afford a plane ticket, or who have never been on a plane.

“There are going to be some people for whom this is just not going to be possible. They could get themselves to Oklahoma, and they’re not going to be able to drive the extra two hours to get to Kansas,” she said. “There is going to be someone who is able to figure it out because they did end up having just enough social support or financial assistance. And there are going to be other folks who just aren’t going to be able to do it.”