If Roe goes, Nevada’s clinics would be strained by influx of out-of-state patients

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Wade Vandervort

Abortion rights advocates protest a possible decision by the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade at the Federal Courthouse in Downtown Las Vegas Tuesday, May 3, 2022.

Tue, May 10, 2022 (2 a.m.)

Nevada will likely see an influx of out-of-state patients seeking abortion care, provided that a leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion gutting the high court’s Roe v. Wade 1973 decision that guaranteed a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy comes to fruition, according to abortion-rights advocates here.

Overturning Roe would immediately trigger laws that would restrict or outright ban access to abortions in 26 states across the country. Access to abortions in Nevada would remain unchanged because of a 1990 statewide ballot measure that codified the right to an abortion within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Neighboring states like Idaho, Utah and Arizona are among states poised to either restrict or outright ban abortion, leaving Nevada as possibly the closest alternative to legally obtain an abortion.

In the last three months of 2021, after Texas instituted its ban on all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, abortions in neighboring states provided to Texas women surged 800%, according to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

A greater number of women coming from out of state to seek an abortion in Nevada would put a strain on the resources and facilities of an already fragile system, abortion rights advocates here say.

Abortions in Nevada must be performed by a physician. That’s problematic, said Caroline Mello Roberson, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Nevada — a Reno-based nonprofit and advocacy group — because the state is already facing a doctor shortage.

“A lot of folks in Phoenix, people coming from Utah, people from Idaho, definitely will probably be coming to Nevada in order to seek care,” Roberson said. “And we know that in our state, we just have very limited access as it is.”

The likely impending restrictions or bans associated with overturning Roe will take the greatest toll on people from poor and rural backgrounds, especially racial minorities, said Lindsey Harmon, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes Nevada — the clinic’s political and activism arm. Travel expenses associated with getting an abortion will represent yet another barrier to many women in those groups, she said.

In that way, “Nevada is, in some ways, uniquely situated to help people,” said Melissa Grant, co-founder and chief operating officer of Carafem, a telemedicine clinic that specializes in abortion care and family planning. “The fact that people can fly in and out of Las Vegas from across the country for a relatively low cost may mean that people do seek care in Las Vegas or health centers in Reno because there are more opportunities to travel there that are more available and less costly than some others.”

Roberson said even more women may turn to medication abortion — a two-pill combination of mifepristone and misoprostol that can be used, under a doctor’s care, to terminate a pregnancy up to 10 weeks after pregnancy. It accounts for about 54% of all U.S. abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

“Assuming we can get folks in earlier on, because it has to be before 10 weeks of pregnancy, it really is a viable option that a lot of people like because they can deal with it in the privacy of their own home,” Roberson said.

To mitigate exposure to COVID-19, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in April 2021 announced it would allow abortion pills to be mailed to patients for the duration of the pandemic, opening the door for telemedicine clinics to see patients remotely and mail such medication.

Grant said virtual clinics might be a great alternative for those seeking abortion care — especially for women from rural or low-income backgrounds — in a discreet and less expensive manner.

It may also offer reprieve to states like Nevada, where a surge in demand may make it more difficult to offer in-person care.

“Telehealth is a little bit more flexible in that you can potentially serve a lot more people, and it also eliminates travel time and some of the expenses,” Grant said. “So, telehealth may be a strategy that will help to take some of the pressure off those states to serve more people and leave visits at a health center to those who strictly want either the aspiration procedure, or for the people medically, for whatever reason, can’t choose to have an abortion with medication.”

Several states with anti-abortion legislatures have already started exploring ways to restrict telemedicine prescriptions relating to abortion, Grant said. .

Harmon said opening another Planned Parenthood health center is planned in Reno by the end of this year. It’s another way to provide women with choices in reproductive health care as hurdles to abortion become more widespread.

“We’re prepared for this,” she said. “I think this situation is horrendous and it’s outrageous and the scale of it is something, obviously, we have not seen in the 50-year time period that this precedent would overturn, but we’re preparing for it and we will accommodate patients in every way possible.”

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