Planned Parenthood to open fourth Kansas location to boost interstate abortion access

A new Planned Parenthood health center will come to southeast Kansas in an effort to expand access to abortion within and beyond the state.

In a Tuesday news release, Planned Parenthood Great Plains described southeast Kansas as “one of the most underserved areas in the state” when it comes to reproductive health.

The new center will open in Pittsburg, which is more than 110 miles from Planned Parenthood’s three other Kansas locations, in Overland Park; Kansas City, Kansas; and Wichita. The KCK location opened most recently, in June 2022.

The Pittsburg Health Center is slated to open in early fall, according to Planned Parenthood. Along with abortion, it will provide STI and HIV testing and treatment, contraception, the morning-after pill, cancer screenings and gender-affirming care.

“We knew that Kansas was going to become a point of regional access,” said Emily Wales, president and CEO of Comprehensive Health of Planned Parenthood Great Plains. “We took it really seriously when patients did say, ‘It’s just too hard for me to get as far north as Kansas City.’”

The most populous town in Crawford County, Kansas, Pittsburg is home to about 20,000 people. It lies close to the Kansas-Missouri border about 125 miles south of Kansas City. It’s also less than an hour from Oklahoma and home to Pittsburg State University, where nearly 7,500 students are enrolled.

Opening a new health center can be a heavy lift, Wales said, especially outside of major metropolitan areas where donors tend to cluster. But for residents of neighboring states, Wales said, Pittsburg is a more feasible trip.

“[Patients] are going to get in the car, drive overnight, try to be back to pick up their kids the next day,” Wales said. “So if we can make that trip easier, we’re going to do that.”

Abortion access in Kansas and nearby states

Kansas voters overwhelmingly chose to keep abortion legal in the state in 2022 following the Supreme Court ruling on Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Center.

After that case overturned the nationwide abortion rights established by Roe v. Wade, a proposed amendment to the state constitution to allow an abortion ban was soundly rejected by Kansas voters.

Now a pregnancy can be legally terminated in Kansas until 21 weeks and six days of gestation.

Opponents of the amendment included 55% of Crawford County residents. Outcry in the county in 2022 helped Planned Parenthood identify community groups and advocates that eventually became partners in planning for the center, Wales said.

Abortion is illegal in most states bordering Kansas, creating a constant influx of visitors seeking reproductive care across state lines, particularly those from Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri. In 2022, 68.8% of abortion patients in Kansas were from out of state, including 2,978 Texas residents and 2,883 Missouri residents.

Some residents of western Kansas also seek abortions in Colorado, Wales said.

Abortion providers across Kansas have dramatically expanded their operations since 2022, when planning for the Pittsburg clinic began. To minimize political criticism, Planned Parenthood opted to keep the process quiet until the first jobs were posted there, Wales said.

Still, providing abortions in Kansas “has felt like drinking out of a fire hose,” Wales told the Star in 2023.

A year after Kansas abortion vote, both sides still adjusting to state’s role as access point

When the KCK location of Planned Parenthood opened in June 2022, it was one of five abortion providers in the state. Today, there are six, all located in Wichita, Overland Park or KCK. The Pittsburg Health Center will be the seventh.

Reproductive health care provided at Planned Parenthood

Surgical abortion is currently only available from Planned Parenthood in Overland Park or Wichita. It will be offered in Pittsburg, and Planned Parenthood also plans to add surgery rooms to the KCK clinic, Wales said.

Residents can also access abortion pills through four different telehealth providers if they have a Kansas address.

Planned Parenthood plans to eventually expand the Pittsburg Health Center’s offerings to include vasectomies and gender-affirming care, Wales said. The center will focus on abortions for the first couple of months before building out these other programs based on conversations with the community.

“It’s been interesting to see that when we offer that service in smaller communities ... we’ve had a lot of patients reach out and say they’ve been trying to figure out where to get this care,” Wales said.

Of the three Planned Parenthood health centers currently open in Kansas, only the Wichita location offers gender-affirming care. Transgender and nonbinary people can go to Planned Parenthood for hormone therapy, puberty blockers, surgery referrals, and social or legal support with transitioning.

Why the Pittsburg clinic?

Wales and her colleagues hope the new clinic empowers residents of southeastern Kansas to make more informed decisions about sexual and reproductive health.

“Our goal is to have health centers that can provide the full scope of comprehensive sexual reproductive care, including medication and surgical abortion,” Wales said.

Crawford County residents report higher STI rates than the state average, according to 2021 data from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the most recent numbers available. The county has been described as a contraceptive desert, where women don’t have ready access to the full range of contraceptive methods like IUDs and implants.

Eleven percent of county residents under 65 don’t have health insurance, according to county data from the Kansas Health Institute, and 20% report poor or fair health.

Planned Parenthood has already begun hiring for the new Pittsburg Health Center. Applications for Health Center Manager and Assistant Health Center Manager roles are posted online.

More postings will follow once these roles are filled, so that management can have a hand in staffing the health center, Wales said.

Planned Parenthood has no immediate plans to open a fifth location in Kansas.