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In the rural West, more concerns about access to abortion clinics

By Claire Rush | Associated press

PORTLAND, Ore. — In the central Oregon town of Bend, the only Planned Parenthood clinic serving the eastern half of the state is bracing for an influx of patients, particularly from neighboring Idaho, where a law trigger banning most abortions is expected to go into effect this summer.

“We have already started hiring,” said Joanna Dennis-Cook, director of the Bend Health Center.

In the western United States, many abortion providers serving rural areas were already struggling to meet demand in a vast region where staffing shortages and long travel distances are barriers to reproductive services. for women. Oregon alone is larger geographically than the whole of the UK.

Some facilities serving rural communities in states where abortion remains legal fear that these pre-existing challenges will be further compounded by the overturning of Roe v. Wade, as more and more patients are traveling from states where the procedure is banned or heavily restricted.

Anticipating an abortion ban in Idaho, Oregon lawmakers earlier this year created a $15 million fund to increase access to abortion services.

The Northwest Abortion Access Fund, a nonprofit that helps patients pay for the trip and the procedure itself, was asked to receive the first million dollars. NWAAF has worked with Bend Clinic for 20 years, and they are working together to meet the needs of a growing number of patients.

Dennis-Cook says his clinic is providing additional staff training and changing schedules ‘to make sure we can accommodate increased patient numbers’ as more people travel farther to get themselves done. cure.

Before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, 20% of American women already had to travel at least 42 miles to reach the nearest abortion clinic, according to 2014 data analyzed by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, which published its findings in The Lancet Public Health. In much of eastern Oregon, this distance can reach nearly 180 miles. As more states enact abortion-inducing bans, distances could grow even further for many patients.

Dennis-Cook says the Bend Health Center has seen patients come from as far away as Texas.

The Bend clinic has six exam rooms and receives approximately 600 visits per month. Since he’s “a bit smaller,” Dennis-Cook said he’s “limited” in what he can deliver.

“We’re only doing first-trimester procedures here,” she explained. She added that the clinic cannot do procedures involving general anesthesia. “We don’t have a plethora of nurses who can do this type of work to draw on.

Small abortion clinics, especially those in rural areas, have historically struggled with shortages of staff and doctors able to perform the procedure. This in turn affects the availability of the schedule.

Amid growing demand for travel funds, NWAAF has already exhausted its planned operating budgets for this year, according to Riley Keane, practical support manager for the group.

“Last year, we gave about $1 million in total,” Keane explained, referring to grants given to clinics to cover abortion costs and travel funds provided to patients. She said this year the NWAAF is “on track to potentially double that.”

Keane expects the $1 million from Oregon’s new Abortion Access Fund to make “a huge difference” for the NWAAF, which normally relies on individual donors. She says this year marks the first time the group has received government money.

The NWAAF says it is concerned about providing travel funds to patients in states where abortion is banned or heavily restricted, but added that it is working with legal professionals to assess the changing landscape.

“They keep us up to date on the things we need to be concerned about,” Keane said.

In response to laws such as those passed in Texas allowing individuals to sue abortion providers, the governors of Oregon, Washington and California announced a joint commitment to protect patients and physicians “against judicial and local law enforcement cooperation with out-of-state investigations”. , investigations and arrests.

The three Democratic governors also said they would refuse “the extradition of individuals for criminal prosecution” for receiving or supporting legal abortion services in their state.
NWAAF’s service region includes Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska.

Keane says NWAAF will continue its work for the time being. “Currently, our legal advisers have not told us that we have to cease our activities,” she said.

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