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How Colorado patients and providers are handling surge of travelers seeking abortions

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Nearly one year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the number of people traveling to states where abortion is still legal has surged. From member station KUNC in northern Colorado, Leigh Paterson reports on how patients and providers are dealing with the influx.

LEIGH PATERSON, BYLINE: Before Texas passed an abortion ban in 2021 and before the Supreme Court's decision last year, Planned Parenthood in Colorado used to see around 10% of its patients coming from out of state. Now it's nearly 40%.

ADRIENNE MANSANARES: Vast majority of folks coming from Texas.

PATERSON: Adrienne Mansanares is the president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, Colorado's largest abortion provider.

MANSANARES: These numbers are just remarkable. We've never seen anything like that before.

PATERSON: It's part of a larger statewide trend. From 2021 to 2022, the number of out-of-state patients traveling here for abortions more than doubled, and the increase is straining the system. At Planned Parenthood, patients used to be able to get in in three days. Now, it's more like 10.

MANSANARES: Ten days matters (laughter).

PATERSON: Particularly when it comes to using abortion pills, which are approved through 10 weeks of pregnancy.

MANSANARES: We'll have patients who make an appointment for a medication abortion. We get them all ready to go, and when they come in, they're too far along for a medication abortion.

PATERSON: The increase in out-of-state patients means everyone is having to wait longer for in-person care.

MAR GALVEZ: I actually found out I was pregnant on the day that Dobbs was announced and Roe was overturned.

PATERSON: This is Mar Galvez, a nonbinary 23 year old who lives near Denver.

GALVEZ: I realized I was eight weeks pregnant at the time. It felt surreal.

PATERSON: Galvez works for COLOR, a reproductive rights organization. With the pregnancy, they knew what they wanted to do.

GALVEZ: I initially tried to find somewhere to get an abortion in person.

PATERSON: They called around to clinics in the area, but none had open appointments for a few weeks. Instead, Galvez found an organization online that connected them with a provider and put the abortion pills in the mail.

GALVEZ: And it is painful, and it is scary. And the only thing I felt afterwards and during it was relief that I had access to that care.

PATERSON: Hello.

REBECCA COHEN: Come in.

PATERSON: How are you?

COHEN: Doing well.

PATERSON: Dr. Rebecca Cohen is chief medical officer at Comprehensive Women's Health Center. Today she's at home in Denver on her day off, hanging out with her dogs and catching up on work.

Are you working all the time?

COHEN: Yes (laughter), I am. I mean, it's one of those things. We are doing a lot more clinical time. Our nurses, our staff are staying late, doing all the things because people need us.

PATERSON: Generally, Cohen says that patient volumes are up, but she's seeing fewer early in pregnancy. She thinks more are likely accessing care online. Recently, Colorado health care giant Kaiser Permanente expanded abortion services in response to long wait times. Cohen says she is seeing more women who have more complications and who are further along in pregnancy.

COHEN: And so to hear that someone is coming to see us after it's taken them three months to get money together - and those are the things that break my heart is just knowing that if they had felt safe enough to reach out earlier, we could have helped more.

PATERSON: Colorado is moving ahead on further securing access to abortion. The governor recently signed three bills, including one shielding out-of-state patients and providers from criminal prosecution. For NPR News, I'm Leigh Paterson in Denver.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBBIE SONG, "COUSIN'S CAR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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