The fallout of Texas’ new six-week abortion ban and bounty-hunter system has been swift since the law’s implementation on Sept. 1. At least one doctor publicly admitted to providing abortions after the gestational ban, prompting multiple civil lawsuits. But abortion in Texas remains a fraught prospect, and new data obtained by Jezebel shows a dramatic spike in pregnant people fleeing to surrounding states for abortion care.
In September, Planned Parenthood health centers surrounding Texas recorded a 1,082 percent increase in patients with Texas zip codes, compared to the same month in 2020 and 2019, according to data from 29 Planned Parenthood health centers provided to Jezebel. The data draws on patient data collected at clinics in Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, Nevada and Oklahoma from Sept. 1-28.
Neighboring Oklahoma is taking the lion’s share of Texas patients: Planned Parenthood centers in the state saw more than 250 pregnant people with Texas zip codes in September, compared to 30 the same month in 2020 and 2019. But Dr. Kristina Tocce, VP and Medical Director of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, was more startled by the patients she saw in other states since the law went into effect. “The Texas impact is most impressive in New Mexico and Colorado,” she told Jezebel in an interview.
In September 2019 and 2020, Colorado centers received fewer than 10 patients with Texas zip codes; last month it treated more than 50. New Mexico saw a 48 percent increase in Texas-based patients compared to past Septembers.
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In forcing people to travel long distances for abortion care, the medically irrelevant six-week ban has also limited what kind of abortion care people are able to choose. One patient seen by Dr. Tocce would have preferred to have a procedural abortion with sedation, but was forced into a medication one because of the logistics.
“The patient says, ‘Oh, I would love to do that. That would be my option. But I drove here nine hours by myself, and I don’t want to have a procedure without sedation, and I need to turn around and go back to Texas today and take care of my kids. I don’t have someone to take care of them any longer, and this is the fastest appointment I can get,’” Dr. Tocce recalled.
Alarmingly, the influx of Texas patients to surrounding states is having a ripple effect throughout the country, crowding the clinics in neighboring states and pushing patients from those states over to further ones. “It was really startling for me to hear my [California-based] colleague say, ‘Well, actually, I’ve seen more patients than typical from Colorado, Nevada.’ And she thinks it’s because it’s so challenging to get an appointment now at any provider’s office in the states that are closest to Texas,” Tocce said.
Planned Parenthood clinics in the states surrounding Texas have had to jump through unforeseen hoops to prepare for the influx of patients, many of whom had initial consultations for abortion care at Texas Planned Parenthood facilities before becoming ineligible for the procedure under the new law. Angela Huntington started a new position as an “abortion patient navigator” at Planned Parenthood Great Plains—which covers Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri—in September, a position that she says was essentially created because of the new Texas law. “From the get-go, the patient navigator position was created to reduce the harm of Senate Bill 8 on patients’ ability to access abortion. We knew it was coming,” she told Jezebel. “The point of this whole navigation program in my affiliate [is] to help patients navigate to where they need to go to exercise their constitutional right to abortion.”
Huntington said that even though Texans who can afford to travel to other states still have the option to exercise their constitutional rights, the whole process of getting an out-of-state abortion creates a logistical nightmare for everyone.
“The travel from Texas to Oklahoma is daunting. I mean, if you’re coming from Galveston, for example, it’s a 450-500 mile drive. So, we get them from point A to point B and back again, I mean that alone is so difficult,” Huntington said. “So you’re talking gas, you’re talking food vouchers, you’re talking, sometimes depending on where they’re coming from, airline vouchers, Greyhound bus tickets, hotel vouchers.”
Finding funds for those practical matters is crucial to being able to access the procedure, as the Planned Parenthood data shows patients with Texas zip codes seeking care as far away as New York and California. “Essentially we are a spider web of support and resources from patient navigators to abortion funds, to Planned Parenthood, to independent providers. I mean, we’re all working together,” Huntington added.
Dr. Tocce, who is based in Denver, has provided abortion care for 20 years and worries for the doctors whose medical expertise is being usurped by the legislature. “I think every single abortion provider and staff member that we have is incredibly thankful that we are where we are and are able to help as many patients as we can possibly help and see and take care of,” she said. “And then on the other hand, just the frustration and anger. It’s really a hard time to deal with those competing feelings.”