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Eastern Washington prepares for rise in abortion patients following Supreme Court ruling

June 24, 2022 Updated Sat., June 25, 2022 at 10:02 p.m.

The Planned Parenthood clinic in Spokane is seen in this May photo.  (Liz Kishimoto/The Spokesman-Review)
The Planned Parenthood clinic in Spokane is seen in this May photo. (Liz Kishimoto/The Spokesman-Review)

Leaders in Washington and abortion access supporters are expecting a sharp rise in the number of people crossing state lines to get an abortion as part of the fallout from the Supreme Court’s decision reversing Roe v. Wade.

Gov. Jay Inslee joined Gov. Gavin Newsom of California and Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon in issuing a multistate commitment to defend access to reproductive health care, including abortion and contraceptives, and protect patients and doctors “against efforts by other states to export their abortion bans to our states.”

In particular, the commitment promises to protect against judicial and local law enforcement cooperation with out-of-state investigation inquiries and arrests, refuse nonfugitive extradition of individuals prosecuted for receiving legal health care in the state, protect against the misuse of medical information, defend licensed medical professionals and promote greater access to abortion services.

“Washington state remains steadfast in our commitment to protecting the ability and right of every patient who comes to our state in need of abortion care,” Inslee said in a statement, “and we will fight like hell to restore that right to patients all across the country.”

The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade makes way for Idaho’s trigger law to take effect in 30 days. The law, passed in 2020 contingent on the reversal of Roe, will make it a felony to perform, or attempt to perform, an abortion.

The felony carries a two- to five-year prison sentence for the medical professional who performs the abortion. The provider would also face a six-month suspension of their medical license on a first offense. A second offense would result in permanent revocation.

The law includes exceptions to save a pregnant patient’s life and in cases involving rape and incest, but only if the patient has previously reported to law enforcement and provided a copy of the police report to the performing physician.

That requirement could stand in the way of people hoping to receive abortion services, according to abortion access advocates.

Most sexual assaults go unreported to police due to emotional duress or concerns for physical safety, while authorities are either unwilling or slow to release police reports during an active investigation, Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates Idaho State Director Mistie DelliCarpini-Tolman said during a call with reporters Friday.

“We all know that abortion is a really time-sensitive procedure, so these exceptions become really in-name-only,” DelliCarpini-Tolman said. “They’re not very effective, and they’re not going to be very helpful for survivors of sexual assault.”

Advocates say the Supreme Court decision opens the door to bans on emergency contraception. Idaho state Rep. Brent Crane, who chairs the House State Affairs Committee, the legislative committee that considers abortion bills, said he would be open to a hearing on a bill to enact such a ban.

Unlike the abortion ban passed in Texas, Idaho’s legislation does not include aid and abet restrictions, DelliCarpini-Tolman said. That means it will not be illegal in Idaho to cross state lines to get an abortion, nor does it carry any penalties for helping someone cross state lines for one.

“Most of what we’re hearing from Idahoans, from our patients and volunteers and from activists and supporters, is that they’re ready to help Idahoans get the care that they need,” DelliCarpini-Tolman said.

Year to date, 43% of abortions at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Spokane Valley were for Idaho residents, up from 37% in 2021, said Paul Dillon, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho. Meanwhile, 62% of abortions at the Pullman health center this year have been for Idaho residents, up from 43% last year.

Around 20% to 25% of abortions at the Spokane clinic, the largest of Planned Parenthood’s sites in Eastern Washington, were for Idaho residents. The Spokane clinic is one of three Planned Parenthood locations in Eastern Washington that can provide surgical abortions.

Dillon said Eastern Washington Planned Parenthood clinics see patients from as far as western Montana.

There are no abortion providers in North Idaho.

Asked whether more people will go to the Spokane-area clinics or Pullman for care once Idaho’s trigger law takes effect, Dillon said it depends.

“A lot of it is provider scheduling, transportation and just rural access,” he said. “We see a lot of patients at the Pullman Health Center from Moscow and Lewiston, but many patients would also come to Spokane if they were farther ahead in their pregnancy, beyond 10 weeks. Spokane Valley Health Center sees a lot of patients from Post Falls, Coeur d’Alene, Sandpoint.”

Dillon said Eastern Washington’s Planned Parenthood abortion clinics have been staffing up in preparation for the Supreme Court decision.

The Affirm Washington Abortion Access Act, which prohibits lawsuits against those who seek an abortion as well as those who help them, also allows physician assistants and advanced registered nurse practitioners to perform abortions.

Dillon said Planned Parenthood has also hired a patient navigator to assist out-of-state patients, while the organization has created a hospitality fund to help cover expenses with transportation, lodging and the cost of procedures.

More information about abortion clinics in Washington state is available at the state Department of Health website at doh.wa.gov.

Representatives from Planned Parenthood and other abortion advocates said the Roe decision marks an ideological shift from protecting abortion rights to fighting for them.

“How the Supreme Court rationalized and justifies this absolutely means that they’re coming after other rights for all Americans as well,” said Leo Morales, executive director for the ACLU of Idaho. “We’re ready and we’re going to team up with our allies here in Idaho and across the country to push back and to push back hard.”

Dillon added, “Make no mistake: This decision goes beyond abortion. This really is a decision about who has power over you and who has authority to make decisions over you.”

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