More than 4,000 U.S. women were denied abortions in 2008 because they had surpassed the gestational age limit for the legal procedure, according to new research published in the American Journal of Public Health. Those women — who ultimately carried unwanted pregnancies to term — were forced to delay their abortions because they needed to save up money, either to pay for the procedure itself or to fund their travel to a clinic.
As part of the University of California, San Francisco’s ongoing “Turnaway Study,” which examines the implications of denying women access to abortion, researchers studied the women seeking abortion care from “last stop” providers, defined as the clinics offering the latest abortion services within 150 miles. When women were turned away from those clinics for being past the deadline, researchers asked them about the barriers that prevented them from being able to get an abortion earlier in their pregnancy. Unsurprisingly, economic barriers topped the list.
Nearly six in 10 women said they couldn’t get an abortion earlier because of travel and procedure costs. Many women also pointed to insurance problems (the majority of states’ Medicaid programs won’t cover abortion services for low-income women, and even women who do have insurance coverage for abortion often either don’t know how it works or skip it because they want the anonymity of paying in cash). Some didn’t know where they should go to receive reproductive care, or how to get to the nearest clinic. About half of the participants said that they delayed seeking abortion services because they didn’t immediately recognize that they were pregnant.
It makes sense, then, that women who need later abortions tend to be economically disadvantaged. But it’s a cycle. The study’s researchers point out that the later women get into their pregnancies, the harder it becomes for them to access abortion care.
“Unfortunately, barriers to abortion only worsen as a pregnancy progresses,” one of the study’s co-authors, Rachel Jones of the Guttmacher Institute, explained. “There are fewer abortion providers that offer care in the second trimester and the procedure becomes much more expensive. By the time a woman has raised the funds for an abortion, a provider may turn her away because she is past the gestational limit set by the provider. For women denied abortion care, traveling to another provider simply may not be feasible.”
Researchers warn that the reproductive rights landscape may actually be even more dire than their study suggests. Their data was collected between 2008 and 2010 — but since then, 11 different states have imposed gestational limits on abortion, which suggests that the number of women currently getting turned away from clinics is now much higher. Currently, the political fight over the issue hinges on 20-week abortion bans, a strategy that allows the anti-choice community to position itself as moderate while chipping away at disadvantaged women’s reproductive rights. The House of Representatives even passed a national 20-week ban at the beginning of the summer.
There’s yet another economic cycle at play in this situation. When women are denied the access to legal abortion care, they are more likely to fall deeper into poverty.