An effective ban on abortion in Texas has increased the number of pregnant women traveling across state lines for termination at least 11-fold, research has shown, a sign of hurdles created by a wave of new restrictions on the procedure.
Between September and December last year, 5,574 women traveled from Texas to abortion clinics in seven neighboring states, often undertaking emotionally grueling, long and expensive journeys by car or plane, according to researchers at the University of Texas. This compares to 514 women during the same period in 2019, the most recent pre-pandemic year.
Now, as several Republican-controlled states pass copycat laws aimed at limiting abortion as much as legally possible, pro-choice activists warn that more women may soon face similar obstacles.
In New York and California, where nearly a third of all abortion facilities are located, the distances traveled by women seeking to terminate their pregnancies are often less than 25 miles. By comparison, even before the recent wave of anti-abortion laws were enacted, women in parts of Texas, North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana – where there are few or no providers abortion – often had to travel more than 300 miles to reach the nearest abortion center.
According to economist and reproductive policy expert Caitlin Myers and the recent University of Texas at Austin study, those distances could reach 500 to 800 miles with widespread abortion bans.
Inspired by the tough restrictions in place in Texas, state legislatures and Republican governors are racing to pass similar measures as they seek to establish their right-wing credentials ahead of the November election and beyond. Last week, Idaho banned abortions after six weeks of pregnancy – like Texas – and days later Arizona lawmakers restricted abortions after 15 weeks.
Oklahoma, which borders Texas, is considering one of the toughest laws yet. Its House of Representatives voted to ban all abortions unless they save a mother’s life. If backed by state senators, he would block abortion access in a state that has seen an influx of Texans seeking abortions.
“[This] does not end abortion, but it encourages compliance because no abortion provider will violate it and risk a lawsuit,” said Wendi Stearman, the Republican lawmaker who sponsored the bill.
Some of the laws are enforced through so-called “bounty hunter” clauses, which allow private citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion, such as doctors or nurses, and possibly recover damages- interests.
Critics say the wave of bans dismantles the constitutional right to abortion enshrined in 1973 by Roe vs. Wade, a landmark Supreme Court decision. Conservative lawmakers have also been emboldened by a pending Supreme Court ruling later this year in a case involving abortion restrictions in Mississippi, which could result in the reversal or substantial weakening of the protections of Roe against state laws that place an “undue burden” on access to abortion. .
It also forces some women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, while others experience the emotional trauma and financial hardship of traveling out of state.
“Abortion has become incredibly political, a red meat issue used to galvanize the conservative Republican base, which equates pregnancy termination with murder,” said Carol Sanger, a professor specializing in reproductive rights at Columbia Law School. .
The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research organization, says if the Supreme Court decides to overturn Roe, at least 26 states, mostly in the South or Midwest, are certain or likely to ban abortion. It could force millions of people to travel to end unwanted pregnancies, with a disproportionate impact on people of color, low-income people, young women and immigrants, according to the institute.
“If the Supreme Court strikes down abortion rights, patients won’t have to cross a single border – they may have to go to three or four states,” said Elizabeth Nash, associate director of state affairs. at Guttmacher. “A person in Louisiana would have to drive 1,300 miles round trip to get to the nearest clinic.”
Options are already shrinking as more states pass restrictions forcing some clinics to close, resulting in long waiting lists at clinics already trying to serve women traveling from Texas. According to the University of Texas study, wait times for abortion appointments in Oklahoma fell from an average of about two weeks in September 2021 to almost a month in January 2022.
Traveling brings its own challenges. Maleeha Aziz was nine weeks pregnant and in college when she embarked on a 720-mile journey from Texas to Colorado eight years ago to have an abortion.
Aziz — who is now a community organizer with the Texas Equal Access Fund, a nonprofit providing financial and emotional support to women forced to travel interstate — said she was told, wrongly, , that Texas had banned the abortion pill, also known as the drug. Abortion. Since surgical abortion was not an option for her, she decided to make the trip.
“I went into panic mode and borrowed money to travel. When I walked into the clinic in Colorado, the protesters called me a murderer and shouted horrible insults at me,” a- The experience left her emotionally scarred and $2,000 in debt, she said.
The barrage of new abortion restrictions has spurred some high-profile corporations and philanthropists into action.
Citigroup recently said it would cover travel costs for staff seeking abortion care, while Salesforce has offered to relocate employees if they fear accessing reproductive health care. MacKenzie Scott, co-founder of Amazon and ex-wife of Jeff Bezos, has donated $275 million to Planned Parenthood, the provider of women’s health care — the biggest donation in the company’s century-old history. organization.
President Joe Biden promised to preserve a woman’s ‘right to choose’ in his State of the Union address, but his administration has limited powers to influence state law, particularly if Roe is reversed.
The wave of anti-abortion legislation has also motivated activists like Aid Access, an organization founded by a Dutch doctor in 2018 to help women who cannot get abortions in their home country, which has stepped up efforts to provide American women pills in the mail. terminate their pregnancies.
The Biden administration lifted restrictions requiring women to receive pills in person from service providers, rather than receiving them by mail, during the pandemic. In December, he made the looser rules permanent.
In the first week after the Texas ban, orders for pills through the Aid Access website soared 1,180%, from about 11 requests from Texans a day to 138. Over the next three months, demand slowed somewhat but remained nearly 175% higher than before the law came into force.
These services have become the latest battleground for anti-abortion groups, which complain that choice advocates are breaking newly enacted laws. This week, the governor of South Dakota signed a law making it illegal to distribute abortion pills through the mail and requiring women to have three in-person consultations with a doctor before undergoing a medical abortion.
For activists like Aziz, the wave of legal restrictions risks turning back the clock to a time when unsafe abortion on the streets was the only option
“I worry about all these additional obstacles. . . [make] it’s dangerous for people trying to access health care,” Aziz said.