RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Abortion rights advocates say Virginia could soon become a destination for women seeking abortions throughout much of the south. That could increase demand at a time when resources are already strained.
A leaked draft majority opinion suggests the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to strike down Roe v. Wade. The initial vote, first reported by Politico, is not final but it’s putting a spotlight on the patchwork of restrictions that could soon become a reality.
Dr. Shanthi Ramesh, chief medical officer with the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood, said the Commonwealth could become a safe haven for women in surrounding states.
“We’ll be seeing more patients for abortion care in Virginia,” Ramesh said.
If the conservative-leaning bench overturns Roe v. Wade, next steps would be decided by each state.
In thirteen states, so-called “trigger laws” would take effect.
It means many of Virginia’s neighbors would almost immediately ban abortion with some exceptions, including if the life of a mother is in danger. The laws also generally outline punishments like prison time and hefty fines for providers who try to perform an abortion outside of those circumstances.
Dr. Ramesh said Planned Parenthood is preparing to see more patients from those states.
“We know that we’re going to need to help patients navigate that, so figuring out the logistics of how they get time off of work or school, childcare, and travel to access care in one of our health centers is going to become increasingly important,” Ramesh said. “For women of color, poorer women and rural women, I think it is going to be much, much harder for them to figure out the logistics of obtaining care.”
Ramesh said they’re also expanding staff in health centers and offering “telemedication” abortions. She said that’s when a provider consults with a patient remotely and sends them a pill to end the pregnancy via mail.
“They’ll need to have some sort of home base here like a friend or a family member that they’re staying with. So it won’t help folks who are out-of-state in terms of accessing that type of care,” Ramesh said. “For patients that are based in Virginia, if they’re able to access care at home, then it frees up more space within our health centers for out-of-state or traveling patients.”
Ramesh said the possible increase in demand comes as access is already limited. A list of providers compiled by New River Abortion Access Fund shows there are 14 clinics serving Virginia with big gaps in between.
Ramesh said it’s not uncommon for doctors like her to travel between multiple different locations due to a shortage of abortion providers. We reached her in Virginia Beach on Monday, even though she is based in Richmond.
Asked if the existing provider network has the capacity to handle a possible spike in out-of-state patients, Ramesh said, “I don’t know that we know. I think you can do a lot of planning and preparing, but be prepared to change those plans.”
As that planning continues, anti-abortion advocates are pushing for stricter laws in Virginia.
Victoria Cobb, president of The Family Foundation, said that effort is gaining momentum after recent Republican wins.
Last week, Virginia’s new GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin said states should be able to decide their own abortion laws. He wouldn’t say if and how he’ll seek to change policies.
Until now, the state Senate, which is still narrowly controlled by Democrats, has stood in the way of proposed changes.
“We see from our last election that Virginians chose pro-life elected officials so we see the direction Virginia is going to go,” Cobb said. “I just simply don’t see the Commonwealth being a place where people long-term come for abortion when we have the possibility of getting back to a place where we have laws that protect the unborn.”