While abortion providers and advocates across the country are anxiously awaiting to learn whether the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade, Washington organizations and officials say they are bracing for a potential influx of people traveling to the state for abortions.
The court, with a 6-3 conservative majority, will rule as late as June on whether to uphold a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, and even possibly overturning the landmark 1973 legal decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.
If Roe is overturned, it would lead to a patchwork of state abortion laws, and providers anticipate more patients from conservative states would travel to Washington for abortions.
Washington state has some of the strongest laws protecting abortion in the country, said Lisa Humes-Schultz, who oversees policy for the advocacy arm of Planned Parenthood in the Northwest.
Texas enacted a law this year banning abortions once cardiac activity is detected, which is typically around six weeks. Washington providers have already seen patients traveling from Texas for abortions, said Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane.
Clinics in Eastern Washington, he said, are particularly keeping a close eye on Idaho, where, if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, a 2020 law would be triggered that would ban nearly all abortions in the state, expect in cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother.
“Anytime you can’t seek care in your own area, people go outside that area,” Riccelli said Thursday. “We’ve seen that with COVID as a border community. … We saw our hospitals fill up with people from Idaho.”
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights, nearly half of all states could see abortion access affected if the decision is reversed. The institute projects a 385% increase in the number of people traveling to Washington for abortions, with most coming from Idaho or Montana.
If access to abortion is limited to the first 15 weeks of a pregnancy, the institute projects a 102% increase.
However, Washington’s laws will do little for the poorest people in the country, who do not have the time or cannot afford to travel, Humes-Schultz said.
“Regardless of what’s happening in Washington, we’re really at a crisis point,” she said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 17,000 abortions were performed in Washington in 2018 — around 5.4% of them for out-of state residents.
The legal right to abortion within Washington is unlikely to change following a Supreme Court case due to years of existing state statues, said Humes-Schultz. While clinics are primarily concentrated in Western Washington and along the Interstate 5 corridor, Washington does not require a 24- to 72-hour waiting period or parental consent for minors receiving abortions, she said.
Oregon has similarly unrestrictive laws, Humes-Schultz said, and Montana and Alaska each have strong right-to-privacy laws, which has translated to a constitutional protection to abortion.
Washington policy protecting abortion dates as far back as the 1970s, before Roe went into effect. The state became the first state in the country to approve a ballot measure to protect abortion in the first “four lunar months” of pregnancy, Humes-Schulz said.
Access to abortion before fetal viability was protected narrowly in 1991 through Initiative 120, which also ensures women have access to the procedure regardless of cost. Unlike other states, Washington allocates state Medicaid funding for abortion.
In 2018, Washington expanded economic access even further through the Reproductive Parity Act, which required insurance companies to cover abortion if maternity care services were also covered, Humes-Schulz said.
Private insurance companies are required to do the same, and the state Department of Health covers the costs if the company claims a religious exemption, she said.