Clinic facilities

Bend abortion clinic braces for influx of patients as Idaho ban goes into effect

In a one-story office park on the north side of Bend, Oregon’s only Planned Parenthood Clinic east of the Cascades can be easy to miss.

On a recent afternoon, a small but steady stream of patients arrived in waves for their scheduled appointments. After being screened for COVID-19, they were quickly ushered into one of six exam rooms. Providers were busy moving from patient to patient. The clinic provides sexual and reproductive health services in addition to abortion care.

The relative calm belies what clinicians believe is an increase in demand for abortion services driven by recently enacted bans across the country. The central Oregon clinic is bracing for a large influx of new patients not just from neighboring Idaho, whose near-total abortion ban went into effect Thursday under a “trigger” provision, but also rural eastern Oregonians who might otherwise have traveled to Meridian or Boise – as well as residents of other states.

“We’re seeing people from almost every red state in the country right now,” said Anne Udall, executive director of Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette. “Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Idaho – any state that has a ban, we see patients.”

The Idaho law, passed by the state legislature in 2020, was triggered when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June and allowed states to establish their own abortion laws. Performing an abortion in the state in most cases is now a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

The law prohibits performing an abortion on any “clinically diagnosable pregnancy” unless the pregnant patient’s life is in danger or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest reported to law enforcement. order.

A federal judge in Idaho on Wednesday temporarily blocked part of the ban that would have allowed authorities to prosecute anyone who performs an abortion, ruling that the law could only be enforced in a medical emergency situation after the resolution of a lawsuit from the Department of Justice.

A Texas federal judge has done the opposite, barring the federal government from enforcing a legal interpretation of the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act that would require Texas hospitals to provide abortion services if the health or the life of the pregnant patient is in danger.

Idaho officials have pledged to fight the federal government’s lawsuit and enact the ban approved by its legislature. “Our nation’s highest court has returned the issue of abortion to the states to regulate – end of story,” Republican Gov. Brad Little said in a statement.

Oregon codified the right to abortion in a 2017 law that requires insurance companies to cover, among other things, abortion costs. It also guarantees that the state will cover costs for people on Medicaid or who are uninsured, including those who lack legal documentation to reside in the United States (a federal law, the Hyde Amendment, prevents federal money from being used to pay for abortions.)

“Oregon is the most protective state when it comes to reproductive rights and access to abortion,” said An Do, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon.

As a result, clinics across the state are already receiving high call volumes, including many from out-of-state patients who will travel hundreds of miles to get to a clinic in Oregon.

Bend Planned Parenthood will be among the closest for people in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon who want an abortion. Nova Newman, assistant director of the Bend Clinic, said the center had prepared as best it could.

Newman said staff have already seen an increase in patient numbers, but the clinic anticipates a spike as Idaho implements its strict abortion ban.

Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette leaders said the organization has hired more staff and is working to set up secure teleconferencing links so that a clinician at a health center can connect to patients at a another health center to guide them through a medical abortion. Medical abortions in Oregon account for approximately 70% of all abortions in the state.

Meanwhile, a network of volunteers from the Northwest Abortion Access Fund, which helps patients in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska access abortions, expects more calls in the weeks and months ahead, said Riley Keane, the nonprofit’s practice support manager.

“One of the biggest effects of abortion bans like the one we see in Idaho is the chilling effect on abortion seekers,” Keane said. “They don’t know what’s illegal or legal in their state, and they’re scared.”

Keane, who has worked for the nonprofit for three years, said about 90 volunteers were working shifts to field calls from patients seeking help with travel logistics, including accommodation and l arranging childcare, as well as payment for the abortion procedure.

She said the nonprofit’s volunteers have received an influx of calls, many from outside the Pacific Northwest, since the Supreme Court ruling.

“The job has gotten incredibly harder since then,” Keane said. “After Idaho’s six-week abortion ban went into effect, we worked hard to work with patients whose appointments were canceled and help them find new appointments. you.”

On Thursday, Udall said the average wait time for an appointment at Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette’s seven health centers was about two weeks. But she said that number is expected to increase.

Planned Parenthood plans to open a clinic in far eastern Oregon, Ontario, but the organization has not provided a timeline for when it will open. Much of the plan remains unclear, but Udall said she expects the clinic to provide “full range sexual reproductive care”.