National Partnership for Women & Families

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Op-ed examines how overturning Roe would undermine abortion access in the United States

In an opinion piece for The Atlantic, columnist Olga Khazan examines what abortion access would look like if the newly elected administration follows through on efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade, enabling "each state ... [to] determine the legality of abortion for itself."

Khazan explains that overturning Roe and authorizing states to individually determine the legality of abortion "is a fairly standard" antiabortion-rights stance, and one supported by "Americans United for Life, the lobbying group that wrote many of the abortion restrictions that have swept through state legislatures in recent years." In such a situation, women in states that ban abortion care completely would have to travel to other states to access care.

"There's no need to engage in hypotheticals to see how this would play out," Khazan writes, citing the "logistical and financial nightmare that traveling for an abortion has been for many women in states with restrictive laws."

For instance, Khazan points to provisions in a Texas omnibus antiabortion-rights law (HB 2) that were implemented in 2013 and struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015. Between 2012 and 2015, she writes, the number of clinics in the state declined from 41 to 17 and "the distance to an abortion clinic for the average county ... shoot up from 72 to 111 miles."

According to research from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP), at least 100,000 Texas women have tried to self-induce an abortion. A separate study, also conducted by TxPEP, found that women in Texas "whose nearest clinic had closed [after HB 2 took effect] had to travel nearly four times as far for an abortion, 85 miles on average," Khazan writes, adding that "[w]omen living in an area with a closed clinic spent more and were more likely to say it was 'somewhat or very hard' to get to their appointment." In addition, women were less likely to access medication abortion.

In a separate study by TxPEP, researchers interviewed women seeking care at 10 clinics in the state before the HB 2 provisions were struck down and found that "women faced steep hurdles at every turn, ... from making the appointment, to getting to the clinic, to covering the logistics for the multiple visits the state's laws required." Study participants reported having to make multiple calls to locate an open clinic, having to ask family or friends for money for travel and having "to ask someone else to watch their kids while they traveled, violating their rights to medical privacy."

Khazan writes, "And this wasn't even a state that had outlawed abortions. It was just a really big state that made it so abortion clinics were much fewer and further between."

According to Khazan, "This isn't a Texas-specific phenomenon." She explains that a 2014 study found women seeking abortion care at 30 clinics throughout the country cited "cost and distance" as the primary reasons they were unable to access abortion care earlier in their pregnancies. Khazan cites additional research showing that the cost of abortion care and related expenses "cost, on average a third of [a woman's] monthly personal income." She also cites a study that found that women who were unable to afford abortion care were more likely than those who were able to access care "to be out of work, on government assistance, and living in poverty a year later."

Pointing to data from the Guttmacher Institute, Khazan writes that "19 states have laws on the books that, if Roe were overturned, would automatically ban or severely restrict abortion." Moreover, many of those states "are contiguous, such as the long stripe between Missouri and Louisiana, as well as both North and South Dakota."

"So, yes," Khazan writes, women would likely be forced to travel to another state "in a post-Roe world" to access abortion care, and "that's not a trivial consideration." She concludes, "One thing about which both critics and supporters of the idea agree is that the change would have real consequences: for the difficulty of obtaining abortions, for the likelihood that women will procure them, and for the lasting consequences of that decision" (Khazan, The Atlantic, 11/17).