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An Oklahoma abortion clinic was a safe haven for women fleeing Texas ban. It will shut down if Roe falls

  • May 13, 2022

“It doesn’t make sense now for Texas women to travel to Oklahoma,” Gallegos said. Since the law passed, the Tulsa Women’s Clinic could not perform abortions on about half the patients seeking the procedure because they did not arrive before cardiac activity was detected in the embryo, Gallegos said.

Some women who are turned away in Oklahoma will likely cross state lines to get abortions at clinics in neighboring Arkansas and Kansas, where the laws aren’t as restrictive. However, if the Supreme Court overturns Roe, Arkansas also plans to outlaw abortion. That would leave just four clinics in Kansas, where the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of abortion rights in 2019, to serve millions of people in the region.

In that scenario, wait times at clinics in Kansas would increase substantially due to the influx of patients from neighboring states which would further limit access, according Zack Gingrich-Gaylord, spokesperson for Trust Women, which has clinics in Wichita, Kansas, and Oklahoma City that provide abortions.

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

Though the Food and Drug Administration now allows women to receive the abortion pill by mail, Oklahoma also bans doctors from using telemedicine appointments to prescribe the pill and monitor patients taking it. The pill, mifepristone, is approved for use up to 10 weeks into pregnancy. In 2019, about 54% of early pregnancy abortions were medical abortions with the pill, according to the CDC.

Dozens of the nation’s leading medical groups, in briefs filed before the Supreme Court last year, argued that abortion is a safe and essential component of health care. They included the American Public Health Association, the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and numerous others. 

Benjamin with the public health group said overturning Roe creates an “enormous risk for women’s health.” 

“When the procedure is not done under proper guidance in a sterile and appropriate setting, there’s a risk of septic infection and death,” he said. “There’s a risk of sterility. There’s a risk of bleeding to death.”

Obstetricians and gynecologists are worried that proper medical training on how to safely perform abortions could plummet if Roe is overturned. The percentage of residents who receive abortion training could drop from 92% as of 2020 to 56% if state abortion bans go into effect, according to a study published last week in Obstetrics and Gynecology, a peer-reviewed medical journal. The authors said the training is important not just for abortion care, but for other medical skills such as managing miscarriages.

Dr. Jen Villavicencio, with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, called the draft Supreme Court ruling an unprecedented attack on women’s health care that will create fear, confusion and impede patients’ access to pregnancy care more generally. With many women now facing the reality of having to travel to get an abortion, Villavicencio said the group is working to create an expanded network of physicians to help patients access care wherever they live.

“It’s critical that we expand access in states where it is not restricted in order to help those who travel from where it is,” she told CNBC in a statement via email.

In the Northeast, Gov. Kathy Hochul has vowed that New York, which legalized abortion three years before Roe v. Wade, will offer safe harbor to anyone who needs one.

“This is a fundamental right under assault,” Hochul said Thursday. “Come to New York. This is the birthplace of the women’s rights movement.”

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