Patients from Idaho, Texas, elsewhere seek abortion care in Oregon

Abortion providers in Oregon have seen a recent rise in demand for abortions from women from states that have adopted bans or are in the process of doing so, officials said at a news conference on Thursday.

“We are seeing people from almost every red state in the country right now – Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Idaho, any state that has a ban, we’re seeing patients,” said Anne Udall, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette. Planned Parenthood accounts for three-quarters of the abortions in Oregon, according to company officials. Its clinic in Bend has seen stepped-up demand in part because it’s one of the only options now for many women in Idaho and eastern Oregon seeking abortions.

Last week, a woman took a $1,200 taxi ride from Boise to the Bend clinic for an abortion, Udall said at the news conference. 

“Let me reassure you, she will be reimbursed,” Udall said. “There are a lot of funds out there to help people who are seeking abortion care.”

In February, the state Legislature approved $15 million to ensure that patients in Oregon and elsewhere can access abortions in the state. Oregon has no limits on abortions, and, by law, the procedures are free. But on Thursday, “trigger” laws went into effect in Idaho, Tennessee and Texas, banning almost all abortions following the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court in June. The Idaho, Texas and Tennessee laws have provisions to prosecute medical providers for performing or helping women obtain abortions.

“This ban is cruel, and it forces physicians in an impossible position to make a choice between following and honoring their oath or risking criminalization and jail time,” Udall said.

The three West Coast states – Oregon, Washington and California – guarantee abortion rights, though California and Washington have some restrictions while Oregon does not.

Gov. Kate Brown, who was also at the news conference, has created a pact with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, all Democrats, to protect patients and providers. Inslee recently issued a directive prohibiting law enforcement in his state from cooperating with out-of-state investigations, and Newsom has signed legislation that protects patients and providers from out-of-state investigations.

Brown has not done the same but she said that patient records are private in Oregon and indicated that providers would be protected.

“My extradition tools are sufficiently broad to ensure that I have the tools that I need to protect both physicians and patients,” Brown said.

She said she’s been in talks with the Biden administration, Inslee and female Democratic governors about any future action to protect abortion rights. 

“I will continue to work with my colleagues up and down the West Coast and across the country to ensure that people across these United States of America will continue to access this fundamental right,” Brown said.

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Oregon, who was also at the news conference, said privacy protections need to be addressed at the federal level. She also said she’s pursuing legislation to ensure that the Federal Trade Commission investigates crisis pregnancy centers for false advertising. These centers offer pregnancy testing and counseling while trying to persuade women against abortions. Bonamici called them “fake clinics” that “often mislead people who are seeking accurate information.”

“They think they’re at a health clinic and they’re not,” Bonamici said. “There is false and misleading information coming out of these crisis pregnancy centers.” 

Bonamici has been a champion behind the Women’s Health Protection Act, which passed the U.S. House but has not been taken up by the U.S. Senate. The act would protect abortion rights.

For now, the U.S. is a patchwork of laws, and patients are confused about what to do to access care, Udall said.

Planned Parenthood closed its Boise center this past spring, and has hired more staff in Bend. The organization also leased clinic space in Ontario on the Idaho border to serve women in that state and in eastern Oregon. Residents there used to go to Boise for abortions.

Udall said the company had found a contractor and planned to start renovations on the facility immediately. She gave no indication of when it might open or its capacity.

“We don’t know exactly the numbers we’re expecting,” Udall said. “We will wait and see. We’re going to offer a full range of sexual reproductive health care. We want to work in partnership with existing health care providers in the area.”

She said the Bend clinic will shoulder the uptick in demand for abortions from Idaho and eastern Oregon until the Ontario center opens. About one-third of Oregon residents are affected by the Idaho ban, Udall said.

Planned Parenthood offers surgical and medication abortions. Planned Parenthood is setting up a telehealth network to make it easier for women far from a clinic to undergo an abortion by taking a prescribed pill. Providers can consult with patients electronically and they can take the pill at home. But Oregon providers cannot prescribe the pills to patients out-of-state. They have to have an Oregon address. 

Only about one-third of the abortions at Planned Parenthood are surgical; the rest are prompted by medication.

The clinic in southeast Portland, Elsie H. Hillman East Portland Health Center, is Planned Parenthood’s largest facility, with 12 exam rooms. It used to offer same day appointments. Now it’s booked two weeks out, manager Katie Jo Jackson told the Capital Chronicle after the news conference.

The clinic only provides medication abortions, and many of its patients are low-income and on Medicaid, the free health care insurance offered by the state and federal government. The facility is expected to shoulder some of the uptick in demand from out-of-state residents, Udall said. As an example, Jackson said the Portland clinic recently served a woman from Texas who had trouble obtaining contraceptive care. 

Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon has also seen an uptick in patients seeking abortions, Udall said.

“Both affiliates across the board are seeing more people from out of state,” Udall said. “This is only the beginning.”

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: [email protected]. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

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Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience, including a recent stint as editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years. She has won state, regional and national awards, including a National Headliner Award for a long-term care facility story and a top award from the National Association of Health Care Journalists for an investigation into government failures to protect the public from repeated salmonella outbreaks. She loves to cook and entertain, speaks French and is learning Portuguese.