On Eve of Roe Anniversary: ‘Our Staff Face Unique Threats & Harassment'

Cantwell releases snapshot revealing impacts of the Dobbs decision on PNW’s abortion providers; Planned Parenthood of Greater WA and North ID flies in nurses because fear & threats make it hard to find local staff

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, ahead of the 51st anniversary of the since-reversed U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) released a snapshot on the status of abortion providers and patients in the State of Washington since Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization threw abortion care across the nation into chaos.

The snapshot compiles stories and data from Planned Parenthood clinics in Central and Eastern Washington, the Washington State Department of Health, and the Northwest Abortion Access Fund. Together, they paint a picture of a strained reproductive care delivery system in the State of Washington: the number of abortions provided in the state rose by 23% in 2022, even as clinics struggle with staffing and harassment.

“What we see in the aftermath of the Supreme Court overturning abortion rights is a persistent and growing strain on our state’s reproductive health care system. Out-of-state patients see Washington state as a haven, but our hardworking reproductive care providers are facing a heavier workload and escalating harassment,” Sen. Cantwell said. “The Washington-Idaho border is the epicenter of this problem.”

“As abortion providers in Washington, our staff face unique threats and harassment given our close proximity to Idaho, which has one of the strictest abortion bans in the country," said Karl Eastlund, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho. “Staffing shortages are a problem for all health care providers in Washington. This has been the case for a while now, but the overturn of Roe forced many providers to look at the potential risks now associated with giving care that all people deserve access to. To make sure we’re keeping up with increased demand for care in our state, we’re working with providers that are no longer comfortable practicing in the state they live.”

According to Karl Eastlund, Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho currently pays to fly six nurse practitioners from other regions into the area in order to help meet demand.

In June, just before the one-year anniversary of the Dobbs decision, Sen. Cantwell released a previous snapshot with data from Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho that showed an 18% increase in total abortions, a 36% increase in out-of-state abortion patients, and a 56% increase in abortion patients from Idaho specifically.

On Wednesday, Sen. Cantwell questioned a panel of abortion experts on the state of reproductive rights in America during a briefing with Senate Democrats ahead of the Roe anniversary. Her questioning focused on the burden that laws criminalizing abortion have placed on health care providers in states like Washington where abortion is still legal, and the need for federal protection from prosecution.

Currently, 21 states have total abortion bans or stringent restrictions in place, and in 2023, over 1,000 provisions to impose further limits on reproductive health care or roll back reproductive rights were introduced across the country. 

Since a leaked draft opinion indicated the Supreme Court’s intent to overturn the reproductive care precedent established under Roe, Sen. Cantwell has been focused on protecting abortion access and choice for women across the country. In March 2023, Sen. Cantwell joined Sen. Murray in reintroducing the Women’s Health Protection Act and hosting a roundtable discussion on the path forward to defend Americans’ reproductive rights. 

In April, Sen. Cantwell joined U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and 25 other colleagues in reintroducing the Let Doctors Provide Reproductive Health Care Act, which would ban anti-choice states from restricting or preventing health care providers from performing abortions in states where abortion is legal.

In May, Sen. Cantwell joined 12 Senate colleagues in reintroducing the My Body, My Data Act to protect personal reproductive health data. 

Also in May, Sen. Cantwell joined 29 Senate colleagues to introduce the Protecting Service Members and Military Families’ Access to Health Care Act, legislation that would codify the Department of Defense’s policy to help service members and their families access non-covered reproductive health care – including abortion services – regardless of the state in which they are stationed. 

In June, Sen. Cantwell joined colleagues in reintroducing the Right to Contraception Act to codify the right to contraception access established by the Supreme Court ruling Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965. The same month, Sen. Cantwell cosponsored the Freedom to Travel for Health Care Act to ban anti-choice states from penalizing or prosecuting health care providers that offer reproductive services in states where abortion care is legal.

In July, Sen. Cantwell joined 46 colleagues in writing to Secretary Becerra to urge HHS to adopt stronger privacy regulations for Americans’ protected health information, including a warrant requirement for the release of medical records in the reviewed Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy rule regulation.  These protections are particularly important because 19 Republican attorneys general – including Idaho’s Raúl Labrador – sent a public comment to Secretary Becerra strongly opposing the Department of Health and Human Services’ revised HIPAA protections. If successful, their opposition would make it easier for officials in Idaho to investigate abortions performed in Washington state and prosecute patients and providers.  This is alarming in light of the findings in Sen. Cantwell’s snapshot report showing increases in out-of-state abortion patients in Washington.

In December, Sen. Cantwell joined a resolution expressing support for the abortion medication mifepristone and calling for the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the drug to be respected. The resolution followed a U.S. Supreme Court announcement it will review a lower court ruling that would restrict access to mifepristone nationwide -- including in states like Washington that have expressly codified the right to an abortion into law.