A new analysis illustrates the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade: In numerous states, women now have no choice but to travel long distances to get an abortion.
One-third of American women of reproductive age must now drive excessive distances, the researchers reported. Twice as many women must now travel more than an hour to get abortion care. And some are having to drive even longer distances to access an abortion.
“We need to understand the diminished access to this essential health service in order to better understand what resources we need to invest to regain that access,” said senior study author Yulin Hswen, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
"We were startled to see that populations of major metropolitan areas now have to travel several hours for care," she added in a university news release.
In the South, where numerous neighboring states have eliminated access to abortion services, travel times grew the most, the findings showed.
Median travel times to access an abortion had been 15 minutes, roughly, in Texas and Louisiana before the Supreme Court ruling this summer. It is now more than six hours, with an average increase of eight hours in Texas, the investigators found.
In states with total or six-week abortion bans, travel times increased on average more than four hours.
For the study, the research team modeled median travel time from each U.S. Census tract to the nearest abortion facility before and after the bans went into effect in 15 states.
It's simply a snapshot in time, however, because state abortion laws are still in flux. Many expect nine or 10 more states to ban abortion in the coming months.
The researchers also found racial disparity in the data, as the restrictions caused extra burdens for Black Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives. About 40% of Black women now face one-hour drives, compared to 15% prior to the Supreme Court decision.
Nearly 40% of American Indian and Alaska Natives faced hour-long drives even before the decision. By the time the study was conducted, over half did. Maternal health risks are also significantly higher among Black and Indigenous women than among other races and ethnicities in the United States, the authors noted.
The findings were published online Nov. 1 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“This has been a real gap in the research,” said study co-author Ushma Upadhyay, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive science affiliated with UCSF's Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health. “We have always more or less known that abortion bans affect Black and other people of color the most, but this research provides direct evidence of how these communities are being disproportionately affected by the Supreme Court's action.”
Census tracts with lower rates of health insurance coverage and lower mean incomes also endure extra hardship now. They disproportionately faced one-hour trips, while also being more likely to rely on public transit, the study authors pointed out.
“It's cost-prohibitive to take such long trips,” Upadhyay said. “In addition to paying for the abortion, people have to take time off from work, pay for gas, pay for lodging and pay for childcare -- because most people needing abortions are already parents.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on maternal mortality.
SOURCE: University of California, San Francisco, news release, Nov. 1, 2022