Women in the U.S. who want to end a pregnancy travel an average of 30 miles to access abortion care, according to newly-released research from the Guttmacher Institute. And the women who live in states with harsh restrictions on reproductive rights — like laws requiring women to seek mandatory counseling or wait a 24-hour period before being able to get an abortion — are more likely to be forced to travel greater distances.
“Many women travel substantial distances to access abortion services. This can present a barrier, particularly for poor and low-income women, who make up the majority of women seeking abortions, and for women in rural areas,” the lead author of the study, Rachel Jones, explained. Jones and her colleagues found that 74 percent of the women who live in rural areas, which tend to have fewer readily available health services, traveled more than 50 miles to access abortion care. Nearly a third of rural women are forced to travel more than 100 miles.
And when economic and geographic issues are combined with harsh state-level laws, the travel distance often becomes even greater. “For women in states with mandatory counseling and waiting periods, the barrier is even greater, and one some women may not be able to overcome,” Jones pointed out. That’s because those types of laws often require women to make multiple trips to an abortion clinic — once for an initial consultation with a doctor or a counselor, and again for the actual abortion procedure — and many women simply can’t make the trek twice.
Guttmacher’s study builds upon previous research that has demonstrated that mandatory abortion waiting periods impose excessive emotional and financial burdens for women. Nevertheless, that’s become a popular type of state-level abortion restriction. Abortion opponents claim that women need to wait a set amount of time, usually 24 hours, to decide whether they really want to terminate a pregnancy — even though evidence suggests that requirement doesn’t actually do anything to sway women’s decisions about abortion.
The new research may actually underestimate the barriers that U.S. women currently face to access reproductive care. Guttmacher’s research is based upon 2008 figures, the most recent year with available data. But since then, states have rushed to enact record-breaking numbers of abortion restrictions that have limited women’s reproductive rights even further. For example, Texas recently enacted harsh restrictions on abortion providers that will force the vast majority of the state’s clinics to shut down — which will force many women to travel hundreds of miles to get to the nearest one. In Wisconsin, where a Green Bay clinic recently announced it will stop providing abortion services, women living in that area of the state will have to make a 250 mile round trip to terminate a pregnancy. And in some states like North Dakota and Mississippi, there’s only one abortion clinic left for the entire state population.