BOULDER — Dr. Warren Hern, the Boulder physician who performs specialized abortions, was already facing a larger case load than is normal — patients had doubled since a Texas law that drastically reduced access to abortion services passed in May 2021.
“We are booked out weeks now,” Hern said in a phone interview conducted after the U.S. Supreme Court leaked a brief indicating it plans to overturn the nation’s landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade. “We can’t see everyone.”
With today’s Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe, the situation for Hern and other abortion providers will see increased pressure and will likely result in an expansion of operations, Hern said in that interview.
Hern, who owns the Boulder Abortion Care, has been outspoken for years about restrictions on abortion. He once wrote a column for the Boulder Daily Camera where he called any restrictions “madness” and said in the interview that the anticipated Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade would return us “to the dark ages.”
It’s easy to determine, therefore, what he thinks about the decision. But if you remove the politics of it, Hern believes women’s health care will decline rapidly. Abortion care, he said, is a fundamental part of women’s medical care.
Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains calls what Hern is facing now a precursor to what’s coming, and even with the preparations that were already taking place, providers of abortion care are working hard and fast to get ready for a projected 10,000 additional patients who will come to the region of New Mexico, Colorado and southern Nevada.
“Seeing out-of-state patients wasn’t new to us anyway,” said Neta Meltzer, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. “But this influx was immediate and very striking.”
The additional 10,000 would nearly double the annual number of patients seeking abortions, Meltzer said. The question, she said, is what happens when other states begin to ban abortion. Up to 26 states are expected to do so: Oklahoma just put into its state law the strictest abortion ban in the nation.
“We’ve expected this and been preparing for this,” Meltzer said, “but we’re still thinking through how we can continue to create additional access.”
That could mean more tele-health appointments, clinics and providers.
“All options are on the table,” she said.
Hern himself said he wants to expand his clinic and staff.
“But that will take a while,” he said. “That’s my long-term plan.”
It’s still a touchy subject, even in a left-leaning state such as Colorado. Major medical providers in the state not affiliated with religious organizations – Banner and UCHealth for example – didn’t want to give interviews on this topic. So it’s difficult to know how many places will expand to help doctors such as Hern meet the demand.
“All of my colleagues are having the same kind of issues,” Hern said, speaking of abortion doctors across the country, not just in Colorado. “But this trend is not new. We’ve seen patients out of state for decades.”
Hern, at least, operates in Colorado, which became the one of the first states this year to guarantee the right to abortion by law. The law doesn’t really change anything in Colorado other than cementing the right to an abortion within state boundaries. Colorado was one of 15 states and Washington, D.C., to codify the right to an abortion in state law.
“In the state of Colorado, the serious decision to start or end a pregnancy with medical assistance will remain between a person, their doctor, and their faith,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement after signing the bill into law in early April.
That’s not the case across the country. Many clinics are being shut down, and women on waiting lists for his colleagues’ help sometimes are forced to wait too long to undergo a safe abortion, Hern said.
Most of Hern’s patients are far along in their pregnancies and have discovered abnormalities in the fetus, he said. Many had desired pregnancies and are anguished patients. These procedures take several days for recovery. He said other women he may not always see visit clinics because they already have kids, are poor and don’t want more. There are foundations to pay for abortions, he said, but travel for many women is an issue.
“They don’t even have bus fare,” he said. “They can’t fly to Colorado or some other place.”
Planned Parenthood may see some increase in donations to help pay for the extra care, and there’s already signs of rallying to meet the demand.
“I think seeing what we might be facing, it gets people motivated,” Meltzer said. “The silver lining, we hope, is that people now are more engaged and that they will support the work because they believe in it and ensure what we can do is care for anyone who needs us.”