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Four abortion clinics in Kansas brace for a deluge of patients from states banning the procedure

Pro-choice activists demonstrate outside the Supreme Court on Oct. 4, 2021 in Washington, D.C.
Kevin Dietsch | Getty Images

Trust Women health clinic in Wichita, Kansas was already overwhelmed with the volume of calls from pregnant women in neighboring states seeking abortions.

About 60% of the clinic’s patients are out of state, said Zack Gingrich-Gaylord, a spokesperson for Trust Women. They mostly come from Oklahoma, where the governor signed a law in May that outlawed abortion beginning at fertilization — basically a total ban on the procedure.

Oklahoma’s four clinics had to stop offering abortions, which which left neighboring Kansas to the north as the closest option for many women. Women from Texas have also been traveling to Kansas to receive abortions since the state banned the procedure after the sixth week of pregnancy.

Trust Women in Wichita does not have the capacity to help everyone who calls, said Gingrich-Gaylord. The clinic offers appointments in two week blocks to manage the volume, but those spots fill up fast and staff often have to tell people to call back later.

“We are definitely turning away far more people than we’re able to see,” said Gingrich-Gaylord. The clinic has brought on additional doctors, staff and increased days the clinic is open, he said. However, it’s difficult to meet the demand with limited time and resources, he said.

“We are already at capacity and over capacity with appointments,” Gingrich-Gaylord said. There were about 7,850 abortions performed in Kansas last year, according to the state health department. While doctors offices and hospitals perform abortions, a majority of those took place at the four clinics. “You can’t add any more hours into these days,” he said.

Now, Trust Women and the three other women’s health clinics that perform abortions in Kansas are preparing for a deluge of patients from other nearby states. Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas are poised to ban abortions after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that made abortion a right protected under the U.S. Constitution. Those states have all passed laws, set to go in effect soon after the ruling, that would make performing an abortion a crime punishable by years-long prison sentences.

Kansas, on the other hand, protects the right to an abortion in its state constitution. In 2019, the state supreme court ruled that Kansas’ constitution protects a woman’s right to “make her own decisions regarding her body, health, family formation, and family life.” The ruling forbade the state’s conservative legislature from passing laws that restrict the procedure.

Kansas is one of the states that might see the greatest increase in number of abortion patients due to its proximity to so many states that are stripping away access, said Danika Severino Wynn, vice president of abortion access at Planned Parenthood.

However, the future of abortion rights in Kansas is also uncertain. In August, voters will decide in a referendum whether to strip the right to abortion from the state constitution. This would allow the legislature to pass laws that restrict or ban the procedure like in neighboring states.

“It’s a toss up. It’s not going to be easy for either side to make their case,” Gingrich-Gaylord said of the ballot measure. Kansans for Life and the National Right to Life Committee did not respond to CNBC’s requests for comment.

Another 32 abortion providers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Texas will soon be prohibited from offering the procedure, leaving more than 8 million women without access to abortion where they live. Louisiana is set to implement its ban immediately. Texas will outlaw abortion in 30 days. Arkansas and Missouri will do so as soon as their attorneys general have certified that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe vs. Wade.

“The clinic system in this region, it’s just not robust enough to take the loss of so many clinics,” said Gingrich-Gaylord.

Planned Parenthood’s two clinics in Kansas already have two-week wait times for abortions, said Emily Wales, president of the group’s affiliates in the Great Plains region. Even before Roe was overturned, half of all abortion patients in Kansas came from Missouri, where there was only one clinic in St. Louis for the entire state.

“We don’t have enough appointments already for the people who live in Kansas who are local, so when you add on another state or two, it is overwhelming for a system,” said Wales.

Planned Parenthood is opening a third clinic in Kansas City later this month which will help increase capacity to see patients, she said. However, the clinics will not be able to see every patient who needs care.

“There’s no way to sugarcoat this — we will not have enough appointments to serve the people who need health care,” Wales said.

While some women will travel for appointments at out-of-state clinics, other patients who don’t have the money will terminate their pregnancies without medical support or will be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, Wales said.

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