Roe v. Wade: Studies reveal what abortion ban means for women forced to cross state lines

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Abortion rights in the U.S. are at the forefront of American politics right now. With the Supreme Court overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, two new studies from The Ohio State University are offering insight into what that could mean for women, especially those who will be forced to cross state lines.

One study finds that a ban on abortions in Ohio would cause a major increase in distance-to-care for state residents. Study authors say the same likely holds true for many restrictive areas throughout the United States, particularly in the South and Midwest. Distance-to-providers was measured according to a “best case” and “worst case” scenario: Two of Ohio’s five surrounding states continue to offer abortion care OR no surrounding states offer abortion care after the Supreme Court ruling.

If that worst case scenario were to really happen, researchers estimate that from the center of 85 of Ohio’s 88 counties, travel distance to the nearest abortion clinic or provider would be 191 to 339 miles. In the best-case version, that distance drops to 115 to 279 miles away for 62 out of 88 Ohio counties.

For reference, as of February 2022 the center points of all Ohio counties were at most 99 miles away from an abortion facility.

Lead study author Payal Chakraborty, a graduate student in Ohio State’s College of Public Health, says overturning Roe v. Wade means individual states will have much more power to prohibit abortion in a variety of ways. One example is whats called a state-wide trigger ban, which would instantly outlaw abortion in respective states. The state of Ohio is already actively attempting to pass an abortion trigger ban, which means overturning Roe v. Wade would force Ohio residents to leave the state to get an abortion.

According to Chakraborty, this scenario would almost certainly worsen health inequities.

“The ability to access abortion care will be retained for the most privileged Ohioans and those who have the most reproductive autonomy. They can fly, pay for hotels, take time off to deal with any waiting periods. But for so many seeking abortion care — including those experiencing financial insecurity — those options are out of reach,” she comments in a media release.

The second study used federal data from 2017 to estimate the number of patients already leaving their states to seek abortion care. That data was also further evaluated based on both the policy environment and number of providers per million women of reproductive age in each included state.

That investigation revealed that in 2017 an average of 8 percent of U.S. patients left their home state for abortion care. Some states had much higher percentages: 74 percent in Wyoming and 57 percent in South Carolina, for example. The average was 12 percent in states with restrictive abortion laws. Meanwhile, states with middle-ground abortion laws saw an average of 10 percent of patients seek out-of-state abortion care, and states with supportive abortion laws only saw three percent travel out of state.

“We’re likely headed toward an abortion rights landscape where states will have greater latitude to restrict access, and we’ve already seen increasingly restrictive policies involving gestation limits, waiting periods and medically unnecessary facility requirements,” notes Mikaela Smith, a research scientist at Ohio State’s College of Public Health.

Traveling out of state isn’t easy for everyone. Considerations include health care coverage obstacles, cost of travel, cost of lodging, and taking care of family needs/responsibilities while away.

“When we think about other forms of medical care, we don’t think about having to cross state lines,” Smith adds, explaining these problems will likely be greater for minorities and others who face pervasive reproductive health inequities. “From an equity standpoint, where you are born or live shouldn’t affect the quality or type of care you receive.”

The research is published in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health and The Lancet Regional Health – Americas.