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A Kansas abortion clinic opened after the Roe decision. It has more patients than it can handle

A security guard at Planned Parenthood Wyandotte County makes his rounds through the organization's parking lot recently.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
A security guard at Planned Parenthood Wyandotte County makes his rounds through the organization's parking lot recently.

While Planned Parenthood Great Plains is experiencing greater demand for abortions than ever before, most patients will never set foot in their new Kansas City, Kansas, clinic. Right now, they can only accommodate 10% to 15% of people requesting appointments.

Walking into the new Planned Parenthood clinic in Wyandotte County, the vibe is decidedly tranquil.

The brightly-lit facility features an area for children to play and plenty of seating in the often-filled waiting room. Lining a long hallway from the often-full waiting room is a nurse station and several exam rooms of varying sizes, just in case a patient comes in with their family.

Reproductive Health Assistant Caitlynn Bohanon says tranquility is the point. Providing a calm atmosphere in a new area is vital as many people are nervous or uncertain about the process.

"If there is any hesitancy there we would generally stop the visit, slow things down and possibly reschedule them for another day to make sure that someone's not making a rash decision," Bohanon said.

The relative peace of the clinic stands in stark contrast to the battle being waged behind the scenes — a scramble to serve as many anxious patients as possible. The clinic, which opened days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and in the midst of a high-stakes election over reproductive rights in Kansas, has seen more demand for their services than they’ve been able to offer.

The facility was intended to help close a gap in services for Kansas residents. Instead, it immediately became one of the only clinics that provides abortions for an entire swath of the country.

The receptionist at Planned Parenthood Wyandotte County works the front desk recently.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
The receptionist at Planned Parenthood Wyandotte County works the front desk recently.

The “soft open” that wasn't to be

When Planned Parenthood leaders chose June 28, 2022, to open a new clinic in Wyandotte County, they had no idea the political chaos that would be swirling.

A primary reason for opening the new site was to try and close a huge gap between the number of health care providers in Wyandotte County compared to Johnson County, where they run another clinic about double the size.

Four days before opening, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, triggering an abortion ban in Missouri. The decision also heightened the stakes around an upcoming vote on a Kansas constitutional amendment that would have removed the right to an abortion in the state.

While Kansas voters in August reaffirmed that right, nearby states did the opposite. Plans for a "soft opening" — a time for staff to get acclimated — went out the window fast.

For Emily Wales, executive director of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, it was a sign.

“I happen to be a person of faith and I think there might have been a little bit of divine intervention there in that, you know, the same moment surrounding states are losing access and patients … we open a new center here in Kansas — in the one state of our four that could continue providing abortion services,” Wales says.

Right off the bat, staff got a crash course on the uncertainty people were feeling.

"At the beginning of this post-Roe world, people were calling largely with questions," Wales says.

Since then, demand for services has only increased, and officials are battling to ensure access to adequate care. But with limited resources in the Kansas City metro and surrounding states, that is easier said than done.

"The calls that we're getting now are not questions. They are needs. They are the need to get in for an appointment," Wales says.

Wales says they're noticing more patients traveling up to 10 or 12 hours for an abortion, particularly from Oklahoma and Texas. However, the most consistent demand still comes from Kansas and Missouri residents.

More patients are also coming in for essential services beyond abortions. Planned Parenthood Great Plains is currently scheduling 25 appointments per day for these varying services.

But most people who want to go to the new clinic for abortion services will never step foot in the building. Right now, Planned Parenthood Great Plains can only see 10% to 15% of patients requesting appointments.

Although the clinic refers patients who cannot access appointments to other providers, the long trips to states like New Mexico, Colorado and Illinois can be a significant roadblock for those with jobs or children.

"It keeps me up at night every night that there are patients whose calls are going answered, but their needs are unmet," Wales said.

 An employee of Planned Parenthood Wyandotte County checks supplies near an autoclave machine recently.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
An employee of Planned Parenthood Wyandotte County checks supplies near an autoclave machine recently.

A balancing act

Even before the fall of Roe v. Wade, Kansas was a regional destination for abortion care. The procedure was severely restricted in many surrounding states, leaving Planned Parenthood’s Overland Park and Wichita locations the only clinics for hundreds of miles that provided in-clinic abortions.

The Wyandotte clinic provides only medication abortions.

Post-Roe, that demand surged as surrounding states outlawed the procedure.

For staff, that means a constant balancing act between caring for folks from out of state without sacrificing services for Kansas and Missouri residents.

It’s exactly what advocates for the Value Them Both Amendment feared leading up to the August election.

"The Value Them Both Amendment is a reasonable approach and will ensure Kansas does not remain a permanent destination," said Mackenzie Haddix, spokeswoman for the Value Them Both Campaign.

But Wales views it differently. She believes this should not only be a point of pride but a sign that further resources are needed in communities across the country.

To meet the growing demand, the Kansas clinics have extended their hours and increased staffing, including hiring more physicians. The Overland Park site is now open on Sundays.

But longer hours have taken a toll on an already battle-worn staff of nurses and doctors.

So earlier this month, the Great Plains organization made an unprecedented move to shut down all its clinics for a week. The break gave staff time to recharge and, for Wales, time to consider how to reach those in desperate need of care.

While there are no immediate plans to open new clinics, Wales understands the urgency of the situation. Planned Parenthood continues to monitor trends of where patients are traveling from and how to connect them with vital services.

"If care is not locally available, a lot of people are not gonna be able to get it," Wales says. "So it is going to be, I think, a long, awful period of time when more and more of those stories have to come out and people realize that these bans really are cruel. They are not political. They are very personal."

Copyright 2022 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.

Noah Taborda is a Sports Broadcasting Journalism major who hopped on the short flight from Chicago to hone his trade at the University of Missouri. He hopes to cover a meaningful moment or two in his future career.