Roe v Wade: Study Shows How Repeal Could Create ‘Abortion Deserts’ in US

The average distance women have to travel to seek an abortion will triple if the US Supreme Court overturns the Roe v Wade ruling, a new study warns.

Repealing the federal ruling will create “abortion care deserts” that will disproportionately affect women of color, those living in poverty and those with less education, said the study, published in the journal. Utah Women’s Health Checkup.

The researchers, including those at the University of Utah, said overturning the ruling would mean the average distance to a clinic would increase nearly threefold from 40 miles to 113.5 miles.

“The entire south is going to be a desert of care. The most dramatic change will be for people who live in a place that doesn’t border a state where it’s legal,” Brenna Kelly, a University of Utah graduate student and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

“You see that in Intermountain West as well. People from Wyoming and parts of Nevada and Idaho come to Salt Lake City [in neighbouring Utah] For care. After Roe, the closest place will be Colorado. People in Salt Lake who could be minutes away from care right now will be hundreds of miles away,” said Ms. Kelly.

In the study, scientists evaluated a list of abortion clinics from the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health research group’s abortion facility database that was current as of fall 2021.

They included a total of 739 clinics for the analysis, excluding closed clinics and those without abortion services.

For all 3,108 US counties, the researchers established the current distance to a clinic and recalculated the distance by removing clinics in states with abortion “activation” laws.

The scientists then calculated the relative change in distance for each county.

Absolute distance to an abortion clinic for all US counties. Top map is distance between Roe v Wade, bottom map is distance if statewide abortion restriction ‘activation’ law goes into effect vigor

(Kelly et. al. (2022). Utah Women’s Health)

They also evaluated data on the race, ethnicity, educational level, poverty, and rurality of women ages 15 to 49 in each county in the database.

The study found that about 24 million women will have to travel at least 150 miles further than they currently do to get care.

It also found that black women would experience the most dramatic increase in distance to care, followed by Hispanic women and those living in poverty.

The researchers said the counties that would see the largest increase in distance have large shares of women of color.

Relative change in distance to an abortion clinic for each county in the contiguous US

(Kelly et. al. (2022) Utah Women’s Health)

So far, at least 21 states have passed laws that would ban or restrict abortion if Roe v Wade is overturned, while another five states are likely to pass laws without federal protection.

There are already huge disparities in access to abortion care in the US, but if Roe v Wade is struck down and the state legislation becomes law, the researchers explained that this would further widen those disparities.

The study also found that both rural and urban areas will experience dramatic changes in distance.

In rural areas, which already have little access to health care, abortion services will be located even further away.

People living in urban counties with activation bans, which will take effect immediately if Roe v Wade is overturned, would experience the largest relative change in distance, the study noted.

Citing one example, the researchers said a person in Miami-Dade County, Florida, would need to travel less than a mile to receive care, but that distance would increase by 426 miles if state legislation became law.

They said the impacts would likely be compounded for women of color who are also impoverished.

“Poor access to abortion care is associated with poor maternal and child health, and many groups may experience increases in these impacts,” the scientists wrote in the study.

The measure would also widen health disparities even further, as people with financial means who can fly or drive to distant clinics will have better access to care than those who rely on public transportation, the scientists said.

Clinics that remain open will also experience higher patient volumes, the researchers said, adding that when restrictions were imposed in Texas in 2020, the number of out-of-state abortions soared by more than 600 percent.

While medical abortions can be searched online and become more widely available, the scientists said these may be subject to state-level policy.

“For many people who now have good access, the situation will get worse. And for people who are already struggling to get care, it will be next to impossible,” said Ms. Kelly.

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