Abortion rights advocates. (Photo by Astrid Riecken/Getty Images).
After more than two months of enforcement, Ohio’s strict new abortion law is on hold at least until next week as a lawsuit over it plays out in Cincinnati. As it does, Planned Parenthood chapters in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan are trying to adapt to a new reality.
The suit in Cincinnati asks the courts to rule that the abortion law — which prohibits the vast majority of abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy — violates due-process provisions in the Ohio Constitution.
But even though enforcement is temporarily stopped, officials at Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio are scrambling for resources to deal with new challenges that arose during the 11 weeks that the law, Senate Bill 23, was enforced.
And Planned Parenthood agencies in Western Pennsylvania and Michigan are trying to staff up as patients have flooded in from Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia and Kentucky, where a raft of new abortion restrictions are taking effect in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 24 decision overturning federal abortion rights under Roe v Wade.
Iris E. Harvey, president and CEO of Ohio Planned Parenthood, said in a news conference last week that her agency is launching a new fund to help women and girls defray the expense of going out of state.
“They are dealing with barriers such as transportation costs, getting time off from work, finding and affording a safe place to stay, taking care of the children they already have and it is overwhelming to think about,” Harvey said. “Under the temporarily blocked six-week abortion ban, Ohioans are accessing abortion care out of state at an estimated $953 on average in expenses just for things like transportation, lodging, food and childcare. This is in addition to the cost of the procedure.”
Meanwhile, clinics in “safe haven” states where abortion access hasn’t been so tightly restricted say they’re being overwhelmed with out-of-state people seeking care.
Ashlea Phenicie of Planned Parenthood of Michigan last week told the Capital Journal that her agency was in “crisis,” with a workload that has tripled and wait times that are now between three and four weeks.
Ohio patients aren’t going just to Michigan clinics. Workers with Ohio Planned Parenthood are seeing similar problems elsewhere.
“As far as the wait times in our safe-haven states, that is in my opinion directly proportional to the amount of states that have implemented bans,” Leah Mallinos, a patient navigator for Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, said during last Thursday’s press conference. “Our patients that we’re navigating are flooding to predominantly Michigan and Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois. We’ve even had some folks looking at D.C. and New Jersey.”
Mallinos said the overstretched clinics are “triaging” patients, caring first for those who may be approaching gestational limits or who have dicey medical conditions.
“Just like our staff, the clinics in the receiving states I know for a fact are working around the clock,” she said. “Some clinics I believe are open seven days a week now to adjust to this influx.”
Sara Dixon, public relations manager for Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, in an email last week said there are two clinics in her region, both in Pittsburgh. As with Michigan, she said wait times for patients coming from states with bans or severe restrictions are now 3-4 weeks.
“Since the Supreme Court opinion leak (on May 2), we have seen an increase in calls at our call center and have been actively hiring so we can meet the needs of those looking for abortion care,” Dixon said. “We have also staffed a new position, patient navigator, who is responsible for helping patients understand the abortion requirements and restrictions of (Pennsylvania), working with other clinics if appointments are not available, finding regional support networks, even information on things like overnight accommodations and parking.”
Harvey, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, said that as some neighboring states try to accommodate patients coming from restrictive states, one group is being left behind. Across the country, many pregnant minors can’t get parental consent or legal overrides they need in order to end their pregnancies, she said.
“These young people are often saddled with no choice,” Harvey said. “We’re getting reports of that nationwide being a critical area.”
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