Make no mistake: abortion access in Washington, though it remains legal, is under threat. Practical access — which has always been insecure, especially for people of lower economic status, people of color, and individuals in rural areas — will be increasingly jeopardized since the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization Supreme Court decision overturned Roe v. Wade, and, thus, removed the constitutional protection of abortion.
As of late July, a full abortion ban is in effect in eight states and six-week bans are in effect in four. U.S. News & World Report predicts that full bans are certain to pass in 22 states and likely to pass in four states.
Compared to these ban-leaning states, Washington’s legal protections for abortion are indeed strong. Other states have restrictions like admitting privileges, parental notification of care for minors, mandatory counseling, and waiting periods, but Washington does not.
The Affirm Washington Abortion Access Act, which is effective as of June 9, also expands who can train and certify to perform abortions from solely medical doctors to advanced registered nurse practitioners and physician assistants as well.
Further, people who seek and receive abortions — and those who support them — are shielded from legal action against them. This not only protects everyone involved in provider-administered medical abortions, it also protects those who choose to have a self-managed abortion — which is safe and effective if performed under the right conditions.
Still, Washington does not authorize abortion for all stages of pregnancy — only until fetal viability. Laws in Washington D.C. and six states — Alaska, Colorado, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, and Vermont — are more progressive on this front. Abortion access is also not yet clearly protected by the Washington State Constitution.
Legal protections do translate to greater practical access, but they are not a solution. Despite abortion’s legality in Washington, practical access has never been guaranteed, and, with the effects of Dobbs, will become even more vulnerable.
Even before Dobbs, patients from other states, including Texas, were already traveling to Washington for abortion care. Now that abortion bans and severe restrictions are increasingly pervasive, those numbers will continue to grow. The Guttmacher Institute predicts that Washington will see a 385% increase in abortion patients. As providers care for greater numbers of out-of-state patients, appointment availability is likely to lower.
It’s important to acknowledge that the providers necessary for in-clinic abortions extend beyond the clinician who performs the procedure. For most abortions, certified nurse-midwives, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and/or registered nurses are with patients for the duration of the procedure. Some surgical abortions additionally require the aid of an anesthesiology team. If the capacity of any of these groups of providers is stretched thin, there will be consequences for when and where appointments are available, the frequency of appointment cancellations, and more.
Abortion fund availability may also fall under increasing strain. Donors have been exceptionally generous since Dobbs was decided, but demand is rising. Financial need will almost certainly increase as travel times extend and procedural costs, as the result of delayed care, escalate.
A UW student’s starting guide to getting abortion care
The following guide is designed to be reasonably instructive, but it is by no means exhaustive. Further, as the consequences of Dobbs continue to unfold, the how-tos of access are likely to change.
Where can I go to learn more about and/or receive an abortion?
If you would like to gather more information about your pregnancy status and possible courses of action before contacting an abortion provider, Hall Health’s OB/GYN Clinic offers pregnancy testing and options counseling. (It does not currently offer abortion services.) Just off campus, Planned Parenthood has a University District Health Center which offers a range of pregnancy services, including abortion referrals.
If you would like to visit a clinic near UW, the Women’s Health Care Center is the clinic closest to the Seattle campus — it is about a fifteen-minute walk from the Quad — and it treats people with both first and second-trimester pregnancies. Students at UW Bothell and Tacoma have access to clinics within 12 miles and one mile, respectively, of their campuses.
You can find more abortion clinics on reproductive justice-oriented websites. INeedAnA.com is one of the best — it offers an interactive and user-friendly map of providers in the United States, and lets you filter clinics by your pregnancy timing. Only some clinics serve patients with second-trimester pregnancies.
Refrain from using general search engines. They may not show you all available clinics — Google Maps, for one, reveals just ten of the upwards of thirty clinics in Washington State using the search terms “abortion” and “abortion clinic.” They also run the risk of showing you imitation abortion clinics known as crisis pregnancy centers.
The Washington State Department of Health also recommends two lists of Washington clinics, one maintained by the Northwest Abortion Access Fund (NWAAF) and the other by the National Abortion Federation (NAF), but these lists are not faultless. The NWAAF displays several providers that are no longer operating, and the NAF only displays NAF-member facilities.
Finally, public hospitals in Washington State are required to provide abortion services if they provide maternity services, making hospital abortions another viable, yet expensive option.
Will my health insurance pay for an abortion?
All students with health insurance plans in Washington that offer maternity coverage will have access to abortion coverage, as well, regardless of the reason for termination. If you are not sure what your plan covers, call your insurance provider.
If you receive insurance from a state other than Washington, you should call your insurance provider to evaluate whether or not abortion is a benefit, and to determine if you can receive coverage in Washington as an out-of-area recipient. Keep in mind that many states restrict abortion coverage, whether or not your insurance is from a state program or private company, and Dobbs has and will further affect those restrictions.
International students are required to maintain health insurance while at UW. If you are an international student, the kind of coverage you receive will vary according to your specific plan. You can call your insurer to determine if and how abortion care is covered. If you are enrolled in the International Student Health Insurance Program (ISHIP), a program for F-1 and J-1 eligible international students, you may also direct questions about coverage to remote help services or to the ISHIP counselor, Chris Dessert.
If you do have a health insurance plan with abortion as a benefit and plan to avail it, be sure to verify that the clinic that you eventually visit is in-network. And if you want to keep your abortion private, you may be able to take some action to do so. There are some general recommendations available online, and the Department of Health offers some suggestions specific to Washington.
How else can I fund my abortion?
Health insurance is imperfect, to say the least. You might have limited or no abortion coverage under your plan, or be uninsured. Even if you do inherit adequate coverage under your plan, abortion care can incur costs beyond the expense of the procedure itself, like transportation, lodging, and child care.
If you think you are going to have trouble paying for your abortion and its ancillary expenses, an abortion fund may be able to offer you some financial assistance. Abortion funds collect and distribute money to help people pay for their abortions.
Even if you know you need funding, you should try to find a clinic and schedule an appointment before searching for it. Generally, it is a good idea to know how much your abortion will cost and the amount of that total that you can cover, before approaching funds.
Appointments can fill up fast, so scheduling as soon as you are ready will also help to lessen any delays in your care. When scheduling, try calling multiple clinics. Some will charge more or less than others and some might offer discounts, so calling around will help you find the best deal and confirm which clinics are still open.
Most abortion funds are organized according to regions or states. In Washington, you can contact the NWAAF, the NAF Hotline, and Indigenous Women Rising. A single fund may not be able to cover everything, so be prepared to join funds from more than one of these, if possible, to maximize your coverage.
What can students do to support abortion access?
As students in a state where abortion remains legal and appreciates broad support from institutions and elected representatives, we have the opportunity to hold people in power accountable to their affirmingstatements.
On the campus-level, there is enormous room for growth in ASUW policy and reproductive justice-oriented RSOs: Lend support when you are able, enhance what exists, or start something new. Get involved with local organizations like Pro-Choice Washington, the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Radical Women, Shout Your Abortion, Surge Reproductive Justice, and Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights.
As always, donations to abortion funds and similar aid projects are welcome if you are financially able to contribute.
Reach writer Kelly Hunter-Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @khunterlynch7
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