It's been a little more than a year since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that guaranteed the right to abortion for women in the United States. Since then, abortion has been outlawed or tightly restricted in at least 13 states, making it that much more difficult for women to seek abortion care. Now, new research details a major obstacle many women seeking an abortion have to face: travel.
What the study says
The study, which was published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, found that nearly half of women who want to terminate a pregnancy need to travel long distances to reach an abortion care facility.
What are the key findings?
The study analyzed census data for women ages 15 to 49 and compared it to the locations of 750 abortion care facilities. Based on the numbers, the researchers found that 41.8% of women of reproductive age have to drive 30 minutes or more to reach an abortion care facility. Researchers also anticipate that number will rise to 53.5% if other state bills that are under consideration are passed.
But drives can be much longer for some women. The researchers found that 29.3% of women didn't have access to a facility that was within a 60-minute drive, and 23.6% couldn't even get to a facility within a 90-minute drive. In Wisconsin, for example, 61.7% of women would have to drive 90 minutes to reach an abortion care facility in a neighboring state.
"Two of every five American women do not have access to an abortion facility within a 30-minute drive, and one in four lack access within a 90-minute drive," the researchers wrote in the study. "These proportions could significantly increase if access is restricted further with state bans proposed in 2023."
What experts think
Unfortunately, this isn't the first study to find there are travel obstacles for women to access abortion. "This is consistent with previous research that we've done that show the Dobbs decision has significantly increased driving distances to get to an abortion provider," Ushma Upadhyay, PhD, an epidemiologist and researcher with Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, tells Yahoo Life. (Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization was the U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued in 2022 that overturned Roe v. Wade.)
Last year, Upadhyay's research found that a third of American women of reproductive age now face "excessive" travel times to obtain an abortion and twice as many women as before need to travel more than an hour to reach an abortion provider. Women in the South face the biggest obstacles, with those living in some parts of Texas and Louisiana going from having median travel times of about 15 minutes to more than six hours to receive abortion care.
Even in states that technically allow abortion, restrictive laws make it difficult for facilities to say open, Dr. Dawn Kopp, co-author of the latest study and an ob-gyn and vice chair of ob-gyn at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life. "The rapidly changing state legislation surrounding abortion has caused some abortion facilities to close in states with restrictive laws," she says.
"The findings are horrific, but also unsurprising," Heather Shumaker, director of state abortion access at National Women's Law Center, tells Yahoo Life. "They demonstrate the real-life implications of decimated abortion access that reproductive rights, health and justice advocates have long predicted."
This isn't just an issue for women in states with restrictive policies, Shumaker says. "Even in states without abortion bans, many providers cannot meet the growing need as patients come from out of state," she says.
Why it matters
The research shows that access to abortion care is now that much harder for women, Upadhyay says. "People have to take time off of work and have to put together funding to receive an abortion," she says. "But some people barely have the funding to pay for the abortion itself, let alone find time to take off from work. When you add in the cost of gas and lodging, it becomes a much more stressful situation."
A small portion of patients will need an additional procedure to complete the abortion, and that means even more travel costs, Upadhyay says.
As a result, "people have and will be forced to continue pregnancies, at the risk of their health and lives," Shumaker says.
These restrictions affect people who are Black and indigenous the most, Upadhyay says. "Abortion restrictions really do burden people of color and those who are low income the most," she says. "It disproportionately affects people who are already marginalized."
Upadhyay says it's important for states where abortion is legal to try to make the procedure as accessible as possible. "That might entail allowing telehealth for abortion or making funding available to make travel easier to facilitate that journey," she says.
Shumaker urges people to push for abortion access. "We deserve the freedom and opportunity to control our own bodies and our life’s path. Restricting abortion access is about who has power over you, who has the authority to make decisions for you and who is going to control how your future turns out. These findings demonstrate a loss of that freedom and opportunity."
Wellness, parenting, body image and more: Get to know the who behind the hoo with Yahoo Life's newsletter. Sign up here.