COLUMBUS, Ohio — Following the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the state of Ohio banned abortions after six weeks, or 42 days, of pregnancy. Now, researchers from The Ohio State University find that prior to this new law, roughly nine in 10 Ohioans seeking abortion care did so after the sixth week of their pregnancy.
Study authors also report one in four Ohio abortion patients didn’t even know they were pregnant until after six weeks had passed. Even among those who did know prior to the six-week mark, 86 percent still had their abortions after 42 days or longer. These findings are based on a survey conducted between 2020 and 2021, encompassing 1,141 abortion patients.
A limited window for a life-changing decision
These results suggest a significant portion of people who want to terminate a pregnancy won’t be able to get an abortion in Ohio.
“Regardless of when pregnancy is discovered, six-week bans disrupt care for nearly all patients,” says lead study author Abigail Norris Turner, a professor in the colleges of medicine and public health at Ohio State, in a university release.
“Obviously everyone who doesn’t know they’re pregnant until after six weeks gestation can’t get an abortion in our state. But when you also consider the requirement of at least two clinic visits, a mandatory 24-hour waiting period, staff shortages and high demand, among other factors, some people who know they are pregnant before six weeks are likely still not going to be able to get abortions before the six-week limit.”
The research team also set out to ascertain if people who knew they were pregnant before six weeks had a different “deliberation window” than others who learned they were pregnant later on. The survey indicates both groups of patients generally contacted an abortion clinic two to three days after finding out about their pregnancy.
Overall, the average gestation time for when a woman discovers their pregnancy is 34 days, which is a week before the current law deems abortion illegal in Ohio. Meanwhile, the average time between pregnancy discovery and termination is 22 days. Researchers also note later pregnancies were more common among Ohioans with fewer educational and financial resources.
“Many people choose abortion because they don’t have enough money or want to pursue higher education before raising children. We learned in this study that those same factors are associated with not knowing you are pregnant until after six weeks — so people in this position are trapped,” Prof. Norris Turner explains.
Bans could have ‘lasting harmful impacts’
Researchers say their work highlights the importance of keeping pregnancy tests on hand, using the tests early enough, and taking care of any pregnancy-related medical appointments as soon as possible.
There will inevitably be many people who don’t find out they’re pregnant until after the six-week mark. For these individuals, study authors say funds for out-of-state travel, childcare, and overnight accommodations will be essential.
“There is no public health or medical reason to have a six-week ban on abortion, and it isn’t what patients need or want. Such a ban will have lasting harmful impacts on the people who need to travel for an abortion or who are forced to carry a pregnancy to term,” concludes study co-author Alison Norris, associate professor public health and medicine at Ohio State.
The study is published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.