February 22, 2024

With some family planning clinics in Arizona immediately canceling abortion appointments as the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade Friday, local centers said they are prepared to offer alternatives to those expected to come west.

Darrah DiGiorgio Johnson, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, which operates 19 health centers in San Diego, Imperial and Riverside counties, said during a midday news conference that the organization has anticipated a surge in demand from Arizona.

The executive said that state funds have been used to bolster availability in many locations, especially in El Centro and Rancho Mirage, two locations that are close to the Arizona border.

“We are looking and have been prepared for this moment to provide high-quality health care to anybody who comes to us, and I feel very well prepared to do that,” Digiorgio Johnson said.

She added that a 10 percent increase in demand for abortions is expected in the counties that Planned Parenthood Pacific Southwest clinics serve, though that’s just a guess. Given the unprecedented nature of the current situation, she cautioned that estimates are difficult to make.

“This is a volatile situation. No one has a crystal ball. We don’t know what’s coming,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of preparation and planning for this moment … the good news for patients is we’re there and we’re ready.”

Dr. Pratima Gupta, an obstetrician and gynecologist on staff at UC San Diego Health who also works part time with Planned Parenthood in San Diego, said that there has already been a steady increase in the number of patients making appointments for abortions and other care in local facilities.

“We are already booking out a week or 10 days in advance,” Gupta said.

There is a growing commitment among local medical professionals, she said, to help carry the extra load, whatever it turns out to be. Her calendar, she said, already includes a trip to El Centro to help her colleagues next month.

“I think we need to meet people where they are at and decrease as many barriers as we can,” she said.

But it’s also important, she added, to understand that access difficulties will not be spread evenly across the populace. Those who arrive in California due to bans in other states are comparatively well off.

“It’s especially going to be people who are already historically disenfranchised, our low-income folks, our people of color, our LGBTQ individuals, our immigrants — they’re the ones who aren’t going to have the resources to travel,” Gupta said.

Dr. Sandra Cervantes, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Family Health Centers of San Diego, the region’s largest community clinic system, agreed.

Native English speakers with plenty of education in how the American legal system works have a good chance of understanding that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling will not curtail abortion rights in California. But there could be a chilling effect among those who don’t have those advantages.

“For a patient who maybe does not speak English that well, maybe she’s a recent immigrant, maybe she’s a refugee or maybe doesn’t read or have an understanding of the justice system, someone might feel hesitancy, and a partner or someone else might be able to coerce a patient saying ‘this is illegal, you should not even talk about that, you could get in trouble,’” Cervantes said. “I fear that people will start taking things into their own hands, even in California, just out of fear, and that’s a really scary thought.”

There also is an unease among this class of medical professionals. Already accustomed to walking past protesters on their way to work, it is hard not to have some concern about safety in a state where Roe has been struck down, but abortion is still legal.

Already accustomed to taking different routes to work every day and checking her back seat every time she climbs in her vehicle, Gupta said that there is a certain amount of anxiety that comes with the job. Colleagues in Colorado, she said, had to be evacuated from a health center after it was surrounded by protesters.

“There is not a single other field of medicine where your commitment to serving your patients could result in personal harm to yourself and to your family,” she said.

Planned Parenthood said in an email Friday afternoon that it saw no increase in the amount of protesting at its clinic locations Friday.

DiGiorgio Johnson, the organization’s CEO, said extra security measures have been put in place to ensure the safety of workers in the coming weeks and months.

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