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Kansas is struggling to serve people from out of state seeking abortions

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade triggered abortion bans and restrictions in states across the country, but not in Kansas. Voters there recently rejected an amendment that could have led to an abortion ban. Now it's hard for providers in Kansas to keep up as people from across the country seek services there. Rose Conlon of member station KMUW and the Kansas News Service reports.

ROSE CONLON, BYLINE: On the sidewalk outside the Trust Women clinic in Wichita, anti-abortion protesters shout at cars turning into the parking lot, recording their license plates.

MIKE HAGAN: A silver truck, I didn't even see who was in it.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: That's a Texas number.

CONLON: Mike Hagan has been protesting here since 1991. These days, he's seeing more cars from out of state.

HAGAN: We get, like, about a third, a third and a third - a third from Texas, a third from Oklahoma and a third from Kansas. We have - definitely because of the laws that have changed. We didn't used to get things from Texas, and now we do.

CONLON: He's not the only one to see a shift.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

CONLON: Inside the clinic, phones are ringing, and only a handful of callers are from Kansas. Demand at the clinic has increased as nearby states implemented bans. During the first six months of last year, the clinic performed less than 800 abortions. That number jumped to more than 1,300 during the same period this year, and the number of out-of-state patients increased sevenfold. Christina Bourne is the clinic's medical director.

CHRISTINA BOURNE: We truly could be doing abortion care 24 hours a day, and we would not meet the demand.

CONLON: Staff say people coming from farther away tend to be further along in their pregnancies and need more involved procedures. Because of the rise, clinic director Ashley Brink says they're turning more people away.

ASHLEY BRINK: Being honest with them that, like, yeah, my next available appointment isn't for two or three weeks. I recommend either calling back on Monday or calling other facilities in other states.

CONLON: And the pressure on Kansas clinics is only likely to increase as more states tighten abortion restrictions. Planned Parenthood Great Plains recently launched a new center out of Wichita to help pregnant people navigate growing logistical hurdles, and it opened a new clinic in Kansas City just days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe. The group's president, Emily Wales, calls Kansas an essential point of access.

EMILY WALES: It does mean that there are some more appointments on the schedule, but we are still realistic that there's more need than we're going to be able to meet right now.

CONLON: Even though abortion is legal in Kansas, there are restrictions, including a mandatory 24-hour waiting period and a ban after 22 weeks, except in rare cases. Getting abortion pills via telemedicine is also prohibited. So some groups work to expand access. Just west in Colorado, telehealth provider JustThePill opened a new mobile clinic out of a van. That means Kansans can drive over the state line and pick up abortion pills from a lockbox. A new nonprofit called Elevated Access has recruited some 800 volunteer pilots to fly patients to appointments on private planes. And abortion funds are in overdrive, especially those that help with travel. Alison Dreith is with Midwest Access Coalition, which helps people pay for and coordinate flights, hotels and child care.

ALISON DREITH: We're being so overworked in this moment that we're still kind of in that emergency phase just because there's so many clients to deal with.

CONLON: But the future of abortion rights in Kansas remains uncertain. Despite suffering a major loss early in August, when Kansans voted overwhelmingly to keep abortion rights intact, opponents have vowed to keep fighting to restrict access. And all but one of the state's Supreme Court justices are up for retention votes this fall, which could call the court's protection of abortion rights into question.

For NPR News, I'm Rose Conlon in Wichita. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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