How Planned Parenthood Is Providing Abortion Care in a Post-Roe America

Culture

Abortion access in the United States has been under vicious attack for decades, forcing clinics and patients to constantly adapt to a complicated legal environment. But now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, removing the constitutional right to abortion and eliminating a nearly 50-year precedent, the future of abortion access is murkier than ever before. Which states will continue to provide care? How will this continue to play out in courts and upcoming elections? And how will abortion clinics transform post-Roe?

To better understand how this decision will affect Planned Parenthood, the country’s leading provider of reproductive health care, with more than 600 health centers across the U.S., ELLE.com checked in with Danika Severino Wynn, CNM, vice president of abortion access of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

To put it simply, Wynn said that in states where access to abortion is maintained, Planned Parenthood is working to build out their capacity to provide care to in-state patients, as well as those who may be traveling to that state to access abortion. In states where access to abortion is severely restricted or banned, Planned Parenthood will help patients access care by providing them with resources, including patient navigators (more on that below), and ensuring patients still have access to other sexual and reproductive health services. “We are continuing to be committed to meeting the health care needs of as many people as possible,” she said. “That includes working with our independent provider partners and abortion funds wherever possible to ensure that patients get what they need, regardless of who their provider is.” Below, Severino Wynn explains how Planned Parenthood is preparing—and providing—for our new reality.


In states where abortion will continue to be accessible:

Does Planned Parenthood expect to see a surge in patients?

We anticipate that there will be a significant surge in some of the states that will maintain access, especially the ones that are closest to areas that lose access. We found with [Texas abortion law] SB 8, and in the past, that typically patients drive to get care, so their nearest state that has access is often the place that they’ll go. As a result, we are working with our affiliates in a regional model to be prepared to move patients around to the best of our ability to ensure they can get abortion care as quickly as possible. If that’s at a Planned Parenthood, [then we’re] making sure we are doing our absolute best to make that process as easy as possible, limiting the amount of information they would need to repeat, and making sure that they can be seen as quickly as possible.

Should patients expect to wait longer for care due to this influx?

We’ll probably see an ebb and flow. We know from SB 8 that there can be a ripple effect, where health centers are seeing more patients from out of state and therefore have longer hold times. Sometimes that means patients will choose to go further away to get an earlier appointment. We are doing our absolute best to try to limit that, but just like all other health care organizations in the post-COVID world, the health care shortages are a major challenge for us as well. So we are doing our best to get more health centers staffed, make it easier for them to get trained, provide them with additional training support, leverage our ability to move providers around, and really do our best to limit the hardship on patients.

How else is Planned Parenthood preparing to manage the increased demand? Does it involve opening more centers?

Operational support to our affiliates is really important—the technical assistance, [and] providing financial resources wherever possible to allow them to surge up their access to patients. We’ve increased investments in patient navigation and support for patients to be able to travel. When we talk about patient navigation, we’re talking about a few things. We’re making sure our digital tools are as updated as possible and reflect the needs that patients might have to be able to really understand all of their options for care, to be able to connect to abortion funds that might be able to help them with resources and support, and to be able to get the logistical and practical support they need to help them travel. We’re also talking about abortion patient navigators, who are staff members in our affiliates, and are hired to support our most vulnerable patients and get the support they need to travel for care. We’re trying to ensure that as many of our affiliates as possible have those robust services available for patients as they need them.

In certain states, such as Illinois and California, we will see an increase in the number of actual physical health centers. In some spaces, [health centers] are really trying to make sure they’re utilizing their physical footprint to the highest level to ensure that they can see more patients. People are being strategic, both Planned Parenthood and independent providers, about where their health centers are located to try to ensure they’re in places that reduce the travel time for patients as much as possible. That might mean a health center on the border of or near a ban state to accommodate those patients that are traveling for care.


In states where abortion has been, or will soon be, banned or severely restricted:

How are Planned Parenthood centers preparing to move forward?

The centers and states that will lose access are really working with their partner affiliates in other states to streamline care for their patients that need to leave the state. They’re certainly still going to be there to continue to provide the full range of high-quality, affordable sexual and reproductive health care services, like birth control, STI testing and treatment, cancer screening, gender-affirming care, and far more, even at health centers that no longer can provide abortion care due to the legal landscape. We know that the affiliates across the country are making operational decisions in an effort to best meet the needs of their unique communities that they serve in a really challenging environment.

What is Planned Parenthood’s legal strategy for fighting against laws in these states?

While our efforts may look different in each state, fighting these abortions bans state by state will continue to be a critical part of our work ahead as we pursue every option to protect patients’ ability to get the care they need. We know that every opportunity to defend abortion access—whether by having these harmful bans declared unlawful or even just delaying them so more patients can access care—will be important in a post-Roe environment.

In the coming days, Planned Parenthood, along with its partners, will be filing more lawsuits in states that have already banned abortion and states expected to do so in the near future. But litigation remains just part of our strategy: from ballot initiatives and constitutional amendments to pushing for proactive legislation that pushes to expand abortion access wherever possible, all options are on the table, and our fight continues.

What will access to telehealth through Planned Parenthood look like?

Unfortunately, telehealth for medication abortion is not something that is available to patients who have an address or live in a banned state. A telehealth provider for medication abortion needs to be able to mail pills or have pills picked up by a patient who lives in the state in which they provide the care. So, for example, if you are a patient in Colorado or New Mexico, and you want to access abortion by pills via telehealth, you could do that and have your abortion pills mailed to you at your home address in those states. If the patient is located in Texas, for example, the provider in Colorado could not mail the pills to them.

What about telehealth for other Planned Parenthood services?

If that state can provide telehealth, that is definitely a potential opportunity to continue providing telehealth for other services—with the caveat that every state has different laws and regulations around telehealth and what can be provided virtually versus what requires in-person care. That’s state by state, but just underscoring that there are still going to be services provided by Planned Parenthood, even in our banned states, around birth control, preventative care, and other reproductive health care services.

What does it mean to have a self-managed abortion? Will patients in these states be able to seek guidance about self-managed abortions from Planned Parenthood?

Self-managed abortion is finding and taking abortion pills to end pregnancy outside of our traditional health care system. While it hasn’t been studied as much as in-clinic abortion, we know that there’s plenty of research to maintain it’s a safe, effective way to end a pregnancy.

The bottom line here is that we do anticipate that more people will opt to self-manage their abortions when we see a more restrictive environment. And to be incredibly clear, we support bodily autonomy of all people, and we are firmly against the criminalization of any pregnancy outcome. So Planned Parenthood is always here for questions, for concerns, and to make sure people have what they need, regardless of where they started their medication abortion.

On our website, we offer information about self-managed abortion. We also refer out to Plan C, which provides a lot of intel about the differences between getting an abortion in a health center versus a self-managed abortion, and that includes legal considerations, which are really important for folks to keep in mind.


For anyone seeking abortion care via Planned Parenthood:

How can people be connected to a patient navigator, and what can they expect from that process?

There are multiple ways to get access to that care. We’ll have some guidance available on our website through our chat/text program, which connects patients who have questions to an educator online. As folks bring up their needs for resources or support, chat/text can help direct them to the right place.

Additionally, when patients make appointments for care, our affiliates can connect them with the patient navigators within their health centers to get care and support that’s local to them and based on their specific needs. That patient navigator would be working in coordination with other navigators around the country to try to help you get to the right place for care based on how far in your pregnancy you are [and] what options you’d like to choose for your abortion care—really making sure the patient’s needs are being met in a timely manner and making sure they understand their options. That’s important to understand, that these navigators are working in concert across the country. They are provider-agnostic, so if a patient wants to go to a Planned Parenthood or if they prefer to go to an independent provider, that doesn’t matter; the patient navigator is still there to help them.

Is there a post-Roe world in which state laws could prohibit providers from referring patients to other states for abortion or counseling patients about abortion, and if so, what are Planned Parenthood’s plans to manage that kind of situation?

    The landscape of abortion access across the country is changing rapidly following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe. And let’s be clear: the chaos and confusion now being experienced by patients, providers, and health center staff will continue. That is the cruel intention of anti-abortion politicians. Right now, we know that at least nine states have banned abortion and more are expected to do so in the coming days and weeks.

    While we don’t know exactly what the post-Roe world will look like, we know that it will be impossible for some people to access critical health care. Criminalizing doctors and targeting abortion providers has long been part of our opposition’s strategy to eliminate abortion access. Planned Parenthood will follow all federal and state laws and regulations. But to be clear, no one should fear arrest or prosecution for a pregnancy outcome. It’s unconscionable that we’re living in a country where people are worried about their health care decisions being policed. For more information regarding legal information and support for navigating complex laws, contact If/When/How’s Repro Legal Helpline at 844-868-2812.

    What’s the best way for patients to learn about which services are provided at their local Planned Parenthood?

    We are doing our best to get messaging out there that helps guide patients, so they know where they can get care and how they can access it. Our website will stay up-to-date to ensure that people know where they can receive abortion services versus other services, where they can receive telehealth for medication abortion, and how they can access additional resources. That will be a very important part of our ability to help patients navigate this really challenging new landscape.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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