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If Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion providers say patients will turn to Washington state for care

Courtesy of the Guttmacher Institute

Washington State has long taken patients that couldn’t access an abortion in Idaho, or other restrictive states.

If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe versus Wade, providers anticipate the number of out-of-state patients to dramatically increase.

In Idaho and many other states, abortion is already inaccessible for many, says Iris Alatorre, a program manager for the Northwest Abortion Access Fund. She says the fund, which pays for abortions, and logistical support for patients in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Idaho, spends close to 60% of its resources on patients from Idaho.

In Idaho it’s illegal for Medicaid or most private insurance to pay for abortions. The state also requires a 24-hour waiting period for patients and more than 60% of reproductive-age women in the state don’t live in a county with a clinic, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive research group that supports abortion rights.

“Just because it's legal, doesn’t mean it's accessible, and that puts working class folks, which is a majority of Idahoans, in a place where they can’t even afford to pay for an abortion out of pocket,” Alatorre said.

Last spring Idaho’s governor Brad Little signed a law banning abortion at about six weeks, which is before most women know they are pregnant.

That law made Idaho one of 26 “trigger states” where abortion would be essentially illegal 30 days after the Supreme Court overturns Roe versus Wade.

Alatorre says if Roe is overturned, or the Supreme Court allows more restrictions, the Northwest Abortion Access Fund will have to find a way to make existing resources stretch farther.

She says she expects an increase in uninsured patients from other states, as well as a spike in logistical costs. The fund covers flights, gas, hotels and childcare.

She says people seeking abortions will likely be forced to turn to family, and friends, to borrow money for the procedure or travel costs.

“A unique challenge we’re going to have is when other states lose access,” she said, “we can anticipate that we are going to be inundated with lots more people, not just Idaho, but from all over the country.”

The potential increase in patients could also put a strain on the Inland Northwest’s clinics.

The Guttmacher Institute estimates that if Roe is overturned, demand for abortion in Washington will increase by 385 %.

Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho spokesperson, Paul Dillon, says that could create a number of issues for clinics.

"It's a challenge to bill for out of state patients’ services and we really need to think through about how we holistically fund abortion care,” he said, “and create sustainable funding to assist patients who are impacted by abortion restrictions in neighboring states like Idaho."

Under the state’s current restrictions, about 40% of abortion appointments at the Spokane Valley clinic are for Idaho patients.

He says Planned Parenthood Clinics in Eastern Washington have also recently seen an influx of out of state patients as other new restrictions, such as patients from Texas going to the provider’s Kennewick clinic.

Dillon says both funding, and appointment availability could become a concern if a wave of new patients comes to the Pacific Northwest.

He says a 2019 Washington Attorney General opinion has allowed more types of providers to perform abortions, such as nurse practioners and supervised physicians assistant, but more preparation is needed.

“We are going to need to be ready for this increase, but fortunately we do have the tools available,” he said, “but it is certainty concerning and weighing on us heavily."

In Washington, access to abortion and insurance coverage for the procedure is protected by state law, but providers hope the state, and federal legislators will do more to make access more equitable, and address funding challenges an influx of patients could create.

This article was changed on December 20, 2022 to correc the spelling of Iris Aletorre's name.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.
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