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Washington state could face increased demand for abortion services if Roe v. Wade falls, say advocates

Supporters of women’s reproductive rights in Bellingham, Wash., B.C.’s neighbour to the south, say if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, they worry local facilities in Washington will face an overwhelming influx of women with abortion needs from across the country.

“We’re looking at 26 states and when this ruling actually becomes real … within 30 days block access to abortion, and that will equal 36 million people,” said Linda McCarthy, CEO at Mt. Baker Planned Parenthood. Abortion is currently legal in the state of Washington. 

“For us, we expect that we will be busier than we are right now, which is hard to imagine.”

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Earlier this month, U.S. political news outlet Politico published a copy of an initial draft opinion written by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, a Republican appointee. That opinion suggests a majority of justices are prepared to overrule Roe v. Wade — the landmark decision that allowed legal abortions in the U.S. — and return the issue to state legislatures.

McCarthy said she’s already noticing women from Texas drive up to six hours to other states to get abortion services they need.

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She said in some states, while abortion isn’t illegal, there are many restrictions in place that make it harder for people to gain access to the services they need — and nearly impossible for those who struggle financially.

“For example, in one state, you might need to see the same doctor twice, two days apart. Well, if you’re a poor person, you might not be able to take two days off from work or you might not be able to afford to spend the night in a hotel,” she said.

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Mt. Baker Planned Parenthood CEO Linda McCarthy says the clinic is preparing for an influx of women from other states who are in need of abortion services. (Benoit Ferradini/CBC)

In preparation for what might come — namely an increased demand for abortion services — she said the clinic is currently training a new abortion service provider and looking for another one.

“It’s been a challenge since COVID-19 when we’ve had to scale back some of our availability for social distancing and we haven’t quite caught up yet,” said McCarthy, “but we are definitely focused on opening more access for people so that we’ll be able to meet the needs of those coming from out of area.”

‘A safe haven for a lot of women’

According to Washington’s Department of Health, people of any age have the right to independently consent for their own abortion care.

During a rally in front of the Whatcom County Courthouse on Tuesday, May 3, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee ensured constituents that Washington would remain a pro-choice state and that women would continue to be able to access safe and affordable abortions.

“Washington state has the ability to become a safe haven for a lot of women in other states who are seeking abortion,” rally organizer Marissa McGarth told CBC News.

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Marissa McGarth said a rally was immediately planned in front of Whatcom County Courthouse on Tuesday, May 3, pictured here, after she heard about the leaked memo to possibly overturn Roe v Wade. (Benoit Ferradini/CBC)

“In Washington state, if you own a retail store, you can provide the morning after pill. We do create legislation that gets copied and reused in other places in these progressive ways so I think we can be a real model in that sense.”

McGarth said when she found out about the possibility of overturning Roe vs. Wade, she wasn’t surprised.

“Not being surprised doesn’t mean it wasn’t extremely disappointing,” she said.

Immediately after hearing the news, McGarth said she connected with the Riveters Collective — a civil action group that was formed in 2016 — to call on all Women’s March supporters across the country to rally in front of their local federal courthouses, town halls and other federal buildings to show their support in defending abortion rights.

“We used our networks that we’ve been building [since] 2016 to organize a really quick rally and Planned Parenthood wanted to make sure to be there, other organizations wanted to make sure to be there and local politicians and lawmakers too,” said McGarth.

Approximately 500 people gathered in front of the courthouse.

“When it comes to how policies are made and created, it really comes from hopefully the community members and where they want time and attention spent, which always equates to dollars and what we find important,” said Bellingham city councillor Kristina Michele Martens.

McGarth said it is also important that community members ask local politicians to start thinking about how they can support the abortion facilities currently in service and what they need to do to protect future generations from losing their rights.

“The need for abortions is not going to go away,” she said. “This is just going to shift the paradigm of how people go about getting access.”

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