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North Carolina abortion providers see surge in calls with Roe overturned

Protesters gather in front of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center after the U.S. Supreme Court released its decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
Claire Donnelly
/
WFAE
Protesters gather in front of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center after the U.S. Supreme Court released its decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

Until recently, when a patient telephoned A Woman’s Choice in Charlotte wanting to schedule an appointment for an abortion, a hotline operator would answer their call within 30 minutes.

In the last few days, that wait time has sometimes ballooned to longer than an hour.

A Woman’s Choice has three clinics in North Carolina and provides abortions in addition to other services like testing for sexually-transmitted infections. The organization, like other abortion providers in the state, has seen a spike in calls after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday and most southern states enacted or prepared to enact abortion bans or restrictions.

“We are hiring more staff. We’re looking for medical assistants and bilingual folks to join our team,” said Amber Gavin, vice president of advocacy and operations at A Woman’s Choice.

“We’re going to reevaluate in the next couple of weeks as more patients are calling, if we need to add additional hours and days for our clinics.”

Gavin said her organization has been receiving calls from Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina, though she added it’s “too early” to see the full impact of nearby states’ abortion restrictions. Charlotte-area abortion providers are accustomed to fielding a certain number of out-of-state calls.

Phones have also been ringing off the hook at a Planned Parenthood call center in Charlotte. In the hours after the Supreme Court opinion was released Friday and into the weekend, call volume “more than doubled,” according to Planned Parenthood South Atlantic president Jenny Black. Planned Parenthood runs at least seven clinics in North Carolina that provide abortions, including one in Charlotte.

“People are scared and confused,” Black said.

But Black said the decision did not catch her organization off-guard. In fact, she said, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic has been extending clinic hours, adding staff and providing more training “for months now,” though she did not give specific numbers. Black said Planned Parenthood has also strategized how it might accommodate additional patients by increasing the physical footprints of its clinics.

“We have already been … trying to really ramp up and prepare for this moment,” Black said.

The ever-changing map of where abortions are banned or heavily restricted isn’t making things any easier, both Gavin and Black said, because where abortions are and aren’t legal could significantly impact how many patients seek care in North Carolina. In South Carolina, a law restricting abortions after six weeks was allowed to take effect on Monday, after a federal court lifted its prior hold on the enforcement of a “fetal heartbeat law” passed last year.

At A Preferred Women’s Health Center in Charlotte, executive director Calla Hales estimates there’s been roughly a 20% jump in appointment requests since the Supreme Court decision. Rather than scheduling patients for procedures within a week or two, Hales said, the volume is forcing staff to book dates around one month ahead of time.

“Considering this is a time-sensitive procedure, that’s pretty hard,” Hales said.

Hales said while she would like to hire additional employees, her clinic is having the same staffing issues as other healthcare fields.

“It’s not just so simple as like, getting more staff. That staff also has to be trained. That’s not something we can do overnight,” Hales said.

Planned Parenthood has faced some of the same challenges, according to Black.

“The market for labor is highly competitive in health care," Black said. "And then you layer on the protesters on the sidewalk screaming at your staff, and you really have to be ahead of the curve when it comes to being competitive with your wages and your culture."

Copyright 2022 WFAE. To see more, visit WFAE.

Claire Donnelly is WFAE's health reporter. She previously worked at NPR member station KGOU in Oklahoma and also interned at WBEZ in Chicago and WAMU in Washington, D.C. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and attended college at the University of Virginia, where she majored in Comparative Literture and Spanish. Claire is originally from Richmond, Virginia. In her free time, Claire likes listening to podcasts and trying out new recipes.
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