Texans are flocking to Planned Parenthood clinics in Colorado after an abortion ban went into effect in Texas last month.
A law passed this spring in Texas banning abortions at 6 weeks and deputizing private citizens to act as vigilantes to enforce it took effect on Sept. 1, and ever since, the vast majority of Texans seeking abortion care have been forced to travel hundreds of miles to neighboring states to end their pregnancies.
Colorado is one of those neighboring states where abortion rights advocates, health care providers, and practical support organizations have been working to meet an unprecedented need for care.
During a press conference Monday, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM) president and CEO Vicki Cowart said that their clinic in Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood saw a 520 percent increase in Texas patients in September compared to August.
Cowart also said that Texas patients have traveled an average of 650 miles one way to get to PPRM clinics since the Texas law, Senate Bill 8, took effect.
“Many patients don’t have the gas money or the reliable car to begin with, much less the time away from work and the child care necessary to travel 1300 miles for health care,” Cowart said. “This is forcing people to carry pregnancies to term against their will.”
On Wednesday evening, a federal judge temporarily blocked Senate Bill 8, saying it violates the constitutional right to an abortion and that the “American legal system cannot abide a situation where constitutional rights are only as good as the states allow.”
The state of Texas has already filed an appeal with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals – arguably the country’s most conservative court. It is unclear how long the law will be blocked or whether clinics will resume providing abortions after six weeks, given the threat of being sued retroactively should the law take effect again.
In allowing Senate Bill 8 to take effect, the U.S. Supreme Court provided insight into how it might rule in the upcoming Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, which concerns a Mississippi law banning abortion at 15 weeks and presents a direct threat to Roe. The state of Mississippi, along with many Republican lawmakers, has explicitly asked the court to overturn Roe in this upcoming case, in which the court will begin hearing arguments on December 1 and could make a decision by June.
“We’re living in a scary time,” said Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser. “Here in Colorado, when people come here, we will protect their constitutional rights both to travel and have reproductive health care.”
Around half of all states in the U.S. are likely to ban abortion if Roe is overturned or weakened, which would force patients to flock in even greater numbers to states like Colorado that support abortion rights. People of color in the south and midwest are most likely to be affected by any further erosion of their reproductive rights, and although states like Colorado are poised to help, providers like Planned Parenthood are already struggling to meet the needs of patients who are fortunate enough to be able to travel for care.
For example, due to the huge increase in Texans needing to travel for abortion care, Cowart said that patients seeking appointments at their clinics in New Mexico have been waiting as long as three weeks for an appointment. That means that even those who can get an abortion are being forced to be pregnant longer, impacting their physical and mental health and potentially forcing them to have a more expensive or intensive abortion procedure.
Meanwhile, other neighboring states where Texans are traveling for care are moving to further restrict abortion access themselves. For example, many Texas patients have been relying on Oklahoma clinics for care, but anti-abortion laws set to go into effect there on Nov. 1 threaten to shut clinics down, leaving both Texans and Oklahomans with fewer accessible options.