By Allie Morris
The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN, Texas — They’re arriving by the day. Some come in cars packed with luggage and family. Others drive for hours alone, hoping to make the round trip in one day to get home in time to pick up their children from school.
When Texas enacted the nation’s strictest abortion ban in September it touched off an exodus. Texans are flooding to clinics across the country for abortions, traveling to states as far away as Washington and Maine.
Planned Parenthood clinics in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas saw 40 Texans last fall.
Since September this year, there have been more than 800.
The surge in demand from the second largest state is straining care across the region. The wait for an appointment at some clinics is up to three or four weeks, a delay that not only takes an emotional toll on the patient, but also raises the procedure’s cost. Texans are also crowding out locals, some of whom are going to other states for an abortion themselves.
What’s happening foreshadows the future should the U.S. Supreme Court roll back five decades of abortion rights. If Roe. vs. Wade falls, abortion is expected to be outlawed in two dozen states across the South and the Midwest.
“People will be scrambling to get care in other areas,” said Emily Wales, interim president & CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which has clinics in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. “The people who have resources will get the care. The people who don’t will be forced to either attempt to terminate the pregnancy on their own or carry one against their will.”
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on Texas’ six-week abortion ban, which has tried to evade legal scrutiny by outsourcing enforcement to private citizens.
But the case that will likely determine the fate of abortion rights nationwide comes from Mississippi. A state law prohibiting abortions past 15 weeks into pregnancy is a direct challenge to Roe, which guarantees the right to an abortion until a fetus is viable outside the womb, or roughly 23 weeks.
A ruling from the court isn’t expected until June. During oral arguments Wednesday, however, the court’s conservative majority signaled a willingness to walk back abortion rights.
“Why should this court be the arbiter rather than Congress, the state legislatures, state supreme courts, the people being able to resolve this?” Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked. “And there will be different answers in Mississippi and New York, different answers in Alabama than California.”
Those geographic divides are already in sharp relief.
If the court overturns Roe, 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion, effectively cutting off access across wide swaths of the South and Midwest.
Texas already has a law on the books to ban abortion if and when Roe falls. Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma have similar trigger laws, leaving New Mexico the only bordering state poised to allow it.
The changing map would force Texans to travel even farther for an abortion. The Guttmacher Institute, which promotes reproductive health and rights, estimates the average drive would be 542 miles one way — about the distance from Dallas to Kansas City.
The burden will fall hardest on communities of color, rural Texans and low-income women, who experts said already face the biggest obstacles in accessing abortion.
Traveling out of state is costly, requires time off from work and could involve the need for childcare. A majority of Texans seeking abortion are already parents, state statistics show.
“With these kinds of bans the impact is for generations,” said Adrienne Mansanares, chief experience officer at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which has locations in Colorado, New Mexico and Las Vegas. “I think about the person who couldn’t get an abortion because they can’t afford it, they don’t have access to resources and now they’re forcing another generation into poverty.”
Several organizations help cover costs for Texans who need an abortion, but some have said they cannot meet all of the demand.
At a news conference last month, Fund Texas Choice executive director Anna Rupani said almost all of the group’s clients are now leaving the state for abortions. The average cost of travel, food and lodging runs between $800 and $1,000, Rupani said. And often they’re traveling more than 1,100 miles on trips that take at least two days.
After the Texas law took effect, one study found that abortions in Texas plummeted by 50%. Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, said the drop was not as much as the group had hoped.
“It’s a shame that women feel the need to travel for an abortion,” he said.
Clinics in other states are struggling to handle the influx from Texas. In 2019, there were 57,275 abortions in Texas, statistics show, nearly triple the procedures performed in neighboring Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico combined.
Some abortion clinics in those states are adding more hours and staff, but still cannot keep up with demand.
“We do have patients calling us asking us to stay later, open earlier and we’ve done what we can,” Wales said. “But there is a limitation just to how many patients we can physically see at a time. It’s been pretty heartbreaking for our staff to know that they’re not meeting the need.”
Trust Women clinics in Oklahoma and Kansas are booked out for three to four weeks, said communications director Zack Gingrich-Gaylord. The number of Oklahoma patients showing up at the clinic in Wichita is also rising, he said.
Cassidy, a woman who traveled from Texas and prefers to be identified only by her first name, checks out at the front desk after a procedure at Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport, Louisiana, on Tuesday. The clinic assists women with unintended pregnancies including women from Texas state.
Texans aren’t just driving to bordering states for abortions, said Kamyon Conner, executive director of Texas Equal Access Fund. They’re going where flights are cheap or where they have family and friends to stay with.
One recent study from the Guttmacher Institute found a spike in Texans seeking abortion in at least a dozen states, including California, Ohio, Tennessee and Washington.
While most Texas patients are driving to Planned Parenthood’s health center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Mansanares said, the group’s clinic near the Denver airport has also seen a big increase.
Texas patients are showing up at Whole Woman’s Health clinics in Maryland, Minnesota and Virginia, president and CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller said.
“An abortion ban doesn’t do anything to prevent the need for abortion. It doesn’t reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies,” she said. “It just blocks people from getting safe care from trained professionals in our own communities in Texas.”