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Overturning Roe could mean women seeking abortions have to travel hundreds of miles


A Roe v. Wade reversal — and the flood of abortion restrictions such a ruling would usher in — stands to affect the distance women would have to travel to their nearest clinic, according to a new report released this week by the Guttmacher Institute. The institute, which favors abortion rights used data from the US Census Bureau to estimate the number of women of reproductive age living in each Census block and calculated the driving distance to the closest abortion clinic.

Illinois, North Carolina and California are among the states that could see the biggest jump in out-of-state abortion patients, as their clinics would be closest for women whose own states are positioned to quickly ban the procedure, according to Guttmacher’s analysis.

In states like Louisiana, Texas and Idaho, women would see the distance they’d have to travel to the nearest clinic increase by tenfold or more, if Roe v. Wade was reversed and abortion bans went into effect in the states most likely to implement them.

The new data is being released as the Supreme Court hears two major cases on abortion. One case, being argued Monday, concerns Texas’ six-week abortion ban, which prohibits abortion after fetal cardiac activity. The law appears to run afoul of the constitutional protections for pre-viability abortions — a point usually around 23 weeks into the pregnancy — that the Supreme Court enshrined in its 1973 Roe decision.
The law has already given a preview of what abortion access would like if other states were allowed to implement extreme limits on the procedure or outright bans. Clinics in Oklahoma and Kansas have reported major surges in Texas patients, prompting delays for residents in their own states to get appointments, while Texas women have traveled as far as Colorado and California to obtain the procedure, according to court filings in the case.

In December, the Supreme Court will hear another case arising out of Mississippi challenging the state’s 15-week abortion ban.

In both cases the states are asking the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, although the justices indicated in the Texas dispute that they won’t be focused on that question. It’s also possible that the court decides the cases in a way that doesn’t overturn Roe, but rather weakens its precedent, allowing more aggressive restrictions on abortion but still preserving abortion rights in some instances.

If the court was to reverse Roe outright, the Guttmacher Institute anticipates that 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion almost immediately. A dozen of those states have so-called trigger laws, where the abortion ban would be triggered by a Supreme Court reversal of Roe. Sixteen states have extreme abortion restrictions — such as the near total bans in Arkansas and Alabama, or the six-week bans in Idaho, Kentucky and Tennessee — that are on the books but are not being enforced due to lower court orders citing Roe v. Wade.

Nine states banned abortion before Roe was decided and another five, Guttmacher predicts, will quickly take steps to pass new laws banning abortions, given those states’ recent trend towards restrictive laws and their political composition.

“There is potential for the states with pre-Roe bans for those pre-Roe bans to go into effect if Roe is overturned,” Elizabeth Nash, a senior state issues manager at Guttmacher, told CNN.

Pointing to the five states that her organization has deemed likely to pass new laws banning abortion after a Roe reversal, Nash said that “these are all states that have recent history in limiting access to abortion and ongoing debates in the legislature about abortion, routinely.”

Hundreds of miles of travel to the nearest abortion clinic

If states were allowed to outlaw abortion, the driving distances their residents would face to access the next nearest clinic would increase exponentially.

If all 26 states that Guttmacher looks at ban abortion, Louisiana women seeking abortions would see the average distance to their nearest clinic increase by 1720%.

In that scenario, the next nearest clinic for nearly three-in-five women in Louisiana would be Illinois. For the rest of the women in the state, Kansas or North Carolina would likely offer the nearest clinics.

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Women in Oklahoma, another trigger law state, would be reliant on Kansas for their nearest clinic, according to Guttmacher’s analysis, which said that the average driving distance to the nearest clinic would be increased from 18 miles to 181 miles.

For women in Idaho, which has a six-week abortion ban that would become enforceable depending on court rulings, the driving distance to their nearest clinic would increase from 21 miles to 250 miles, in the Guttmacher scenario.

How abortion access in blue states would be affected, if red states were allowed to implement bans

States that have taken proactive steps to protect abortion rights wouldn’t be spared the impact of a flood of abortion bans. In scenario where 26 states banned abortion, more than a dozen would see a likely significant increase of out-of-state patients just because their clinics would be the closest clinics for women in states where abortion outlawed, according to the Guttmacher data.

Illinois stands to be a particularly critical “destination” state for patients in surrounding states where abortion could be banned after a Roe reversal.

For nearly 9 million women — including for women in neighboring states like Indiana and Missouri, as well as women as far as Louisiana and Alabama — their next closest clinics would be Illinois, according to Guttmacher. The percentage of women who would need drive to the state to reach their nearest clinic would increase by 8,651% percent.

Illinois has taken steps to expand abortion, passing statutory protections for the procedure and making it eligible for Medicaid enrollees, Nash said.

North Carolina also stands to become a hub of out-of-state abortion patients if Roe is overturned. For 1 million in Tennessee, 370,000 women in Kentucky, 230,000 women in Louisiana and 200,000 in Mississippi — all states with trigger laws — North Carolina would be the next closest state in the hypothetical Guttmacher analyzed.

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