Special Thanks to KUNC | By Leigh Paterson (AP Storyshare)
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. In Colorado, the volume of out-of-state patients more than doubled between 2021 and 2022.
Because of the increase in need for services, everyone is having to wait longer for in-person care—including Colorado residents.
Mar Galvez, a non-binary 23-year-old who works for the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), could relate.
“I actually found out I was pregnant on the day that Dobbs was announced and Roe was overturned,” said Galvez, then a student living in Boulder. “I realized I was eight weeks pregnant at the time. It felt surreal…It didn’t feel like it was something that I was holding evidence of in my hands.”
When Galvez found out they were pregnant, they knew they wanted an abortion—and they knew who to call.
But they were unable to get an appointment within a few weeks at any of the nearby clinics. Instead, they found an online organization that connected them with a provider over telehealth who could prescribe them mail-order abortion pills.
“It is painful and it is scary, but it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t precisely the decision that I wanted for myself,” Galvez said of their abortion. “The only thing I felt afterwards and during it was a relief that I had access to that care.”
Clinics across the state are experiencing increased demand. Following the Dobbs decision last June, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains’ 14 Colorado clinics had wait times of up to 28 days for abortion appointments. More recently, patients can expect to wait around 10 days, still a significantly longer wait than in years past.
“Ten days matters,” Adrienne Mansanares, the president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM) said of the risk in increased wait times.
Abortions pills, the most common abortion option today, are approved only through 10 weeks of pregnancy.
“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,” Mansanares said.
Statewide, the majority of out-of-state patients are coming from Texas after an abortion ban took effect there in 2021. In the past, around 10% of PPRM’s patients in Colorado have come from out-of-state. So far this year, that number has hovered around 40%.
“These numbers are just remarkable,” Mansanares said. “We’ve never seen anything like that before.”
Resources in the state are being stretched thin as providers adjust to the increase in need.
Abortion funds like Cobalt Abortion Fund are being inundated by patients who need help paying for out-of-state travel. So far this year, the Colorado non-profit has spent over $126,000 on financial assistance for individuals seeking abortion care, more than twice what the organization had spent at this time last year.
Clinics are bringing on more staff. Wait times for routine reproductive care like pap smears have increased, too, in some locations.
“We are doing a lot more clinical time,” Dr. Rebecca Cohen, the chief medical officer of Comprehensive Women’s Health Center in Denver, said. “Our nurses, our staff are, you know, are staying late, doing all the things because people need us.”
Cohen said generally, demand is still high, although she is seeing fewer patients seeking abortions early in pregnancy. She thinks many of them are accessing medication abortion care online.
Plus, for those with health insurance, more options have come available in recent months. This past fall the Colorado health care giant Kaiser Permanente announced it was expanding abortion services in response to long wait times at other clinics.
In her clinic, Cohen is now seeing higher volumes of women further along in their pregnancies, with more complications.
“To hear that someone is coming to see us after it’s taken them three months to get money together—we are where we are,” Cohen said with a sigh. “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.”
Meanwhile, Colorado lawmakers are working to further secure access to abortion services. Gov. Polis recently signed three reproductive health bills into law, including one that shields out-of-state patients and providers from criminal prosecution should they seek or practice abortion services in Colorado.