Abortion providers face uncertain future with expected Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling

The draft opinion that was leaked from the U.S. Supreme Court could have enormous implications, especially for abortion providers in 26 states where new restrictions or outright bans would go into effect. Dr. Sarah Traxler in St. Paul, Minnesota, who travels every few weeks to South Dakota to perform abortions, and Dr. Bhavik Kumar, an abortion provider in Houston, join Lisa Desjardins to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A draft Supreme Court opinion that was leaked to Politico earlier this week suggests the justices are poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

    Lisa Desjardins examines what the expected ruling would mean for abortion providers.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Judy, for more on the potential implications of this decision, we turn to Dr. Bhavik Kumar, an abortion provider in Houston, and Dr. Sarah Traxler, an abortion provider in St. Paul who also travels to South Dakota every few weeks to see patients.

    This obviously is a contentious legal and moral debate, but we want to talk to both of you about what this looks like on the ground potentially.

    And I want to start with you, Dr. Traxler.

    What would overturning Roe mean for your patients in South Dakota, where a ban would likely go in place immediately?

  • Dr. Sarah Traxler, Abortion Provider:

    Well, for my patients in South Dakota, it would mean one of three things, continuing a pregnancy and delivering a baby, or traveling to another state where you can access abortion, or self-managing an abortion.

    That's what it — that's what it would look like.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    How far would that kind of travel be if there were no abortions provided in South Dakota? What would that mean?

  • Dr. Sarah Traxler:

    Well, we already have patients who are traveling upwards of 150 miles one way to access abortion in South Dakota already.

    And if you put on top of that the closest — the closest abortion center after a ban would be in the Twin Cities or in Omaha. That's an additional 200 miles, so quite a ways.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    We're talking many hours than, I guess, something like five to nine hours of driving. OK.

  • Dr. Sarah Traxler:

    Yes. Five to nine hours, yes.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Dr. Kumar, I want to look at your situation in Texas, a little bit different there.

    Texas is one of 26 states where bans on abortion or near-bans would go into effect, just like South Dakota. But abortions are already highly restricted there. What would the impact of a full ban overturning Roe be in Texas?

    Dr. Bhavik Kumar, Planned Parenthood Center for Choice: Yes, that's a great question.

    We have actually seen that already happened here in Texas when the governor issued an executive order right when the COVID-19 pandemic was starting. And for about four weeks, abortions were completely banned in the state.

    And for the last eight months, we have been living under Senate Bill 8, which is a very, very extreme ban on abortion, around six weeks. And so about half of our patients have not been able to get care. So, in Texas, we're essentially living in a post-Roe world already.

    And what I have seen firsthand from my patients is that it's very difficult for them to travel for care out of state. Some patients have traveled thousands of miles. And many patients have told me that traveling is simply not an option, and they're forced to have children that they know that they can't take care of.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Dr. Traxler, I see you nodding about the idea of a lot of travel for these patients.

    But I want to also ask you, do you expect to see an influx of patients potentially in Minnesota, where it looks like abortion will remain legal after this? And how are you preparing for that? Do you have the staff and resources?

  • Dr. Sarah Traxler:

    We do really expect to see an increase in travel.

    We know that, just like Dr. Kumar said, not everyone is going to be able to travel for abortion care. But we will definitely see it and, depending on how the final decision actually plays out, will have a considerable impact on our region.

    We have some states that have a lot of restrictions already. So, we would see potentially an 8 percent or 25 percent increase in demand in Minnesota.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I want to ask both of you, who are we talking about here?

    Sometimes, when you talk about abortion, you're talking about the philosophy, the moral aspects of it. But I'm interested in asking you who your patients are, in whatever way you want to describe them. And, also, who do you think would be most affected by bans or near-bans, starting with you, Dr. Kumar?

  • Dr. Bhavik Kumar:

    There's no one type of patient.

    I think it's important to point out the second part of your question about who's most impacted. And Texas has had a lot of abortion restrictions passed and enacted. And with any abortion restriction or any ban on abortion, the most impacted folks are always folks of color, especially Black women, low-income folks who have a harder time getting to the places that may be able to provide care, young people that have a number of laws that they have to navigate, undocumented folks, LGBTQ folks, which folks that are already marginalized in accessing health care.

    And those are the folks that are going to suffer the most when we have further restrictions on abortion access.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Dr. Traxler.

  • Dr. Sarah Traxler:

    My patients also run the gamut, from minors trying to access care, to women of color, to religious women, women who even come to my office and tell me that they're against abortion, but they need one.

    And so I agree with him. There's no particular patient there. There's sort of anyone who can become pregnant could become my patient.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Dr. Kumar, I wonder what your personal plans are if there is a full ban on abortion in Texas. Would you move? Would you change your practice to another state if you were no longer able to provide abortions there?

  • Dr. Bhavik Kumar:

    That is something that I think many of us are considering.

    For me personally, I don't plan on leaving Texas. We have seen over the last eight months, with this most recent attack on abortion rights in Texas, that people need care before they have to travel to get their abortion. They need care after their abortion, sometimes for follow-up, for confirmation that their abortion is complete.

    And so there are still things that we can do in Texas in helping people to get to where they need to. I also do have the ability to travel out of state and provide care. And I have been doing that. I have done that in the past. And it's probably something I will continue to do, knowing that there will be a huge need for folks that are trained in abortion care in the future.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Dr. Traxler, I hear Dr. Kumar saying preparing for this decision, like, what you're doing as a care provider.

    I wonder, what do you — what are you going to tell your patients in South Dakota the next time you see them about their situation and what's ahead?

  • Dr. Sarah Traxler:

    We're actually planning for the possibility.

    And I don't know if you're aware, but, in South Dakota, there's this very strict 72-hour waiting period. There's a consult day. And we can't do any part of the procedure until 72 hours later. And we are actually in the process of having to explain to our patients that, depending on when the decision comes down, because it's immediate in South Dakota, we may actually only get to see them for their consult and not be able to see them for the procedure.

    So we're having that conversation with patients already. And what that would mean is us having to find a way to navigate them to likely Minnesota, where they could get their care. And we are preparing. We're preparing for an influx of patients because we imagine that's what it's going to be.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In our last few seconds here, I want to ask each of you what this means for abortion providers, how you're doing, what's going on with the community.

    First, Dr. Kumar.

  • Dr. Bhavik Kumar:

    yes, I think this has been a very difficult moment for most of us, because we love the work that we do.

    We see people who need this care that are pregnant and know that they can't be. We sit with them. We know their names. We know their stories. And this is very personal for us, because we worry about what's going to happen to them. This is a very difficult moment. But we know that abortion has always been needed by folks throughout history. That's not going to change. And we're committed to showing up for people and continuing the fight.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And Dr. Traxler?

  • Dr. Sarah Traxler:

    I think people are sad and in grief, but also horrified and very angry, but galvanized to act, to prepare, to be ready, to move physicians to places where they can start practicing again, because, like Dr. Kumar said, this is very personal work.

    We know our patients' personal stories. We know information about people that they don't tell anybody else. And so it is very personal work, and I can't imagine not doing it.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Dr. Bhavik Kumar and Dr. Sarah Traxler, thank you for joining us.

  • Dr. Bhavik Kumar:

    Thank you.

  • Dr. Sarah Traxler:

    Thank you so much.

Listen to this Segment