Patients head to Indiana for abortion services as other states restrict care

·4 min read

On Monday three days after the Supreme Court issued its groundbreaking decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an Indianapolis obstetrician-gynecologist, took a call from a colleague, a child abuse doctor in Ohio.

Hours after the Supreme Court action, the Buckeye state had outlawed any abortion after six weeks. Now this doctor had a 10-year-old patient in the office who was six weeks and three days pregnant.

Could Bernard help?

Indiana lawmakers are poised to further restrict or ban abortion in mere weeks. The Indiana General Assembly will convene in a special session July 25 when it will discuss restrictions to abortion policy along with inflation relief.

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But for now, the procedure still is legal here. And so the girl soon was on her way to Indiana to Bernard's care.

Indiana abortion laws unchanged, but effect still felt across state

While Indiana law did not change last week when the Supreme Court issued its groundbreaking Dobbs decision, abortion providers here have felt an effect, experiencing a dramatic increase in the number of patients coming to their clinics from neighboring states with more restrictive policies.

Since Friday, the abortion clinics where Dr. Katie McHugh, an independent obstetrician-gynecologists works have seen “an insane amount of requests” from pregnant people in Kentucky and Ohio, where it is far more difficult to get an abortion.

A ban on abortions after six weeks took effect on Friday in Ohio. Last Friday the two abortion providers in Kentucky shut their doors after that state’s trigger law banning abortions went into effect.

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Indiana soon could have similar restrictions.

That pains doctors like Bernard.

“It’s hard to imagine that in just a few short weeks we will have no ability to provide that care,” Bernard said.

For now, Indiana abortion providers have been fielding more calls from neighboring states. Typically about five to eight patients a day might hail from out of state, said McHugh, who works at multiple clinics in central and southern Indiana. Now, the clinics are seeing about 20 such patients a day.

Kentucky patients have been coming to Indiana in higher numbers since earlier this spring when more restrictive laws took effect there, McHugh said.

Indianapolis abortion clinics seeing surge in patients from Ohio, Kentucky

A similar dynamic is at play at Women’s Med, a medical center that performs abortions in Indianapolis that has a sister center in Dayton, Ohio. In the past week, they have doubled the number of patients they treat for a complete procedure, accepting many referrals from their Ohio counterpart.

More than 100 patients in Dayton had to be scheduled at the Indianapolis facility, a representative for Women’s Med, wrote in an email to IndyStar.

Women and pregnant people are “crying, distraught, desperate, thankful and appreciative,” the representative wrote.

The two centers are working together to route patients to Indianapolis for a termination after a pre-op appointment in Dayton. In recent months, they have also had people from southern states, like Texas, come north for a procedure.

Many patients, particularly from Ohio and Kentucky, are seeking care through Women’s Med while also making multiple appointments in other states so if one state closes down, they will still have some options, the representative wrote.

The center is advising pregnant people with a positive pregnancy test to book an appointment even though prior to the Supreme Court ruling they asked people to wait until their six-week mark to do so.

For years people have traversed state lines for abortions, particularly if a clinic across the border is closer to their home than the nearest in-state facility.

In 2021,465, or about 5.5%, of the more than 8,400 abortions performed were done on out-of-state residents, according to the Indiana Department of Health's most recent terminated pregnancy report. More than half, 264, lived in Kentucky and 4in Ohio.

Midwestern residents can also travel to Illinois, where abortion is likely to remain legal even in the wake of the recent Supreme Court ruling but for many Indiana is closer and until the lawmakers pass any measure to the contrary, abortion will be legal here.

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Still, it remains murky what the future holds.

Thursday a lower court ruled that abortions could resume, at least for now, in Kentucky. On Wednesday abortion clinics in Ohio filed suit, saying that state’s new ban was unconstitutional.

In Indiana lawmakers have declined to provide specifics of what measures any abortion legislation considered here might contain.

For now, then, abortion providers are doing their best to accommodate all Hoosier patients as well those from neighboring states.

“We are doing the best we can to increase availability and access as long as we can, knowing that this will be a temporary time frame that we can offer that assistance,” McHugh said.

Contact IndyStar reporter Shari Rudavsky at shari.rudavsky@indystar.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter: @srudavsky.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: With Indiana abortion laws, pregnant people come from other states