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Coloradans face challenges in accessing abortion clinics due to increased demand in the state

Chris Clements / KSJD
A Planned Parenthood clinic in Cortez, one of only two in Southwestern Colorado.

Coloradans are having a harder time accessing abortion clinics due to increased demand in the state.

That’s the result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade and left the question of whether or not to provide secure access to abortions to the states themselves.

Clinics in rural areas have been facing difficult challenges in the wake of the Dobbs decision.

Historically, rural areas have been underserved in terms of medical access. This is particularly true for patients seeking abortions.

“It's always a lot of travel involved, a lot of planning and additional burden for the patients to obtain care if there’s no access in their community,” said Kristina Tocce, the chief medical director of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which includes Colorado, New Mexico, Southern Nevada and Wyoming.

Southwestern Colorado has only two Planned Parenthood clinics, one in Durango and one in Cortez.

Tocce says they’re providing critical services to patients in the region.

“That's one of the things that makes us so so proud of our our centers that are in smaller areas, non-metropolitan areas, because it allows patients to get the health care that they need in their own town and their own state without having that additional burden of travel that a lot of patients find themselves in in rural areas,” she said.

Since the Dobbs decision, there’s been an influx of patients coming from out of state to seek care in Colorado.

Tocce says that’s been putting a significant strain on an already burdened healthcare system, including those in rural areas.

“We have seen a tremendous number of patients traveling from Arizona (and) Texas, Oklahoma – so many states that do not have secure access to abortion,” she said. “Those patients have traveled to numerous states in our affiliate, such as Colorado, New Mexico and Southern Nevada. And it's been a really hard thing to see our wait times really increasing.”

Longer wait times don't just impact patients from out of state, they have a knock on effect for everyone seeking care.

“If the wait time is three weeks, the patient that lives in that state in that community is waiting three weeks, just as the patients who are traveling from the states that don't have secure access to abortion care,” she said. “So that is a real issue that Coloradans are facing on an everyday basis.”

Tocce says it’s not just abortion access that is being impacted, as Planned Parenthood clinics offer many other healthcare services.

When patients can’t be promptly seen by a physician for preventive care such as birth control and wellness exams, the concern is that their overall health might suffer.

“Are we going to see in the future more incidences of cervical cancer and breast cancer that we do a lot of screening for?” she said. “For birth control, if you can't get your birth control, you obviously will have an increased risk of an unintended pregnancy. And that all those factors are affecting our patients. It'll be very interesting to see the data as we track this longitudinally throughout time.”

Of particular concern to medical health professionals like Tocce is that abortion services – a highly time-sensitive procedure – might be more difficult to come by as wait times continue to increase.

“If you have to wait three weeks, you might not be able to have a medication abortion, you might have to have a procedural abortion,” she said. “And if you're waiting three weeks, and you're going to a center that has a certain gestational age limit, and you're beyond that, you may not be able to get an abortion at that center at all. So it really has such serious implications for patients, for their health, for their well being.”

Tocce says the current reality has been hard to accept as a physician.

“And I still even just, it's hard to even say that I still haven't accepted it,” she said. “I am still in disbelief that this is how we're practicing medicine in 2022.”

Meanwhile, healthcare providers like Kaiser Permanente are expanding their abortion services in response to the overflow of patients coming to Colorado from neighboring states.

Chris Clements is KSJD's news reporter. He previously covered literary arts as a reporter for The Chautauquan Daily in Chautauqua, New York, and recently graduated with a degree in English from Arizona State University. He’s passionate about all things related to journalism, music and film, especially author David Foster Wallace, jazz singer Cecile McLorin Salvant and the films of Paul Thomas Anderson.