Abortion Bans Would Force Women To Travel Hundreds More Miles For Care

By exploiting the coronavirus outbreak to eliminate abortion access, state officials are creating another public health crisis.

As more states move to temporarily ban abortion, ostensibly to preserve medical supplies for the coronavirus pandemic, a new report reveals how much further women will be forced to travel for care at a time when leaving home is deeply discouraged.

New policies temporarily barring abortion would make care inaccessible for some patients and significantly delayed for others, according to a report released Thursday by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports reproductive rights.

A handful of states hostile to abortion rights ― Texas, Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Indiana and Alabama ― have moved to eliminate abortion by classifying it as a nonessential procedure that must be postponed under the state’s emergency response to the COVID-19 crisis. Multiple court challenges are underway to block the bans from going into effect, which has kept abortion accessible in most states for now. Abortions have been halted in Texas and Oklahoma, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Leading medical groups, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, oppose categorizing abortion as nonessential, noting that the “consequences of being unable to obtain an abortion profoundly impact a person’s life, health, and well-being.”

The abortion restrictions come as millions of people are urged to stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But the bans will have the opposite effect, according to the Guttmacher report. Patients in states that shut down abortion services will be forced to travel hundreds of additional miles. In some cases, women will have to drive five to almost 20 times longer than usual.

“Forcing people to overcome these challenges in the middle of a global pandemic places unconscionable burdens on them, and the consequences fall hardest on people who are already struggling to make ends meet.”

- Rachel Jones, research scientist at the Guttmacher Institute

In Texas, home to 6 million women of reproductive age, the average one-way driving distance to an abortion clinic would increase from 12 miles to 243 miles, the Guttmacher Institute found. In Ohio, it would increase from 15 miles to 120 miles. In Oklahoma, it would increase from 14 miles to 155 miles.

“Extended travel, or any travel, during the COVID-19 crisis flies in the face of basic public health recommendations and, in some cases, legal orders,” the report reads.

The greater the increase in travel distance, the more likely it becomes that individuals will not be able to obtain the care they need, said Rachel Jones, a research scientist at Guttmacher. The report suggests that some patients will not be able to get abortions, while others will have to wait longer for an appointment, resulting in more second-trimester abortions.

“Under ordinary circumstances, the burdens of extended travel — including taking time away from work, lost wages, finding child care, securing lodging, and arranging transportation — can be incredibly difficult for people seeking abortion care,” Jones said. “Forcing people to overcome these challenges in the middle of a global pandemic places unconscionable burdens on them, and the consequences fall hardest on people who are already struggling to make ends meet.”

In an interview last week, a college student told HuffPost how she had to drive more than 24 hours to another state to get an abortion due to the Texas ban.

“I feel let down by my government. Frankly, I feel like my constitutional rights were violated when I needed them the most,” she said. “With the cost of the AirBnB, gas, food and parking, I’ve had to pay a lot more money out of pocket to get this abortion than I should have had to.”

Elizabeth Nash, policy analyst at Guttmacher, stressed that the bans will likely have a snowball effect in neighboring states.

“After decades of attacks on abortion access, it’s already difficult — and in some cases impossible — for people to get abortion care,” she said. “[Clinics in nearby states] must now care for a potentially significant influx of patients while they are adjusting to providing care in the middle of a pandemic.”

Are you trying to get an abortion during the coronavirus outbreak? We want to hear from you. Email reporter Melissa Jeltsen at melissa.jeltsen@huffpost.com.

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