Shots uncover striking shifts in abortion care accessibility through maps

Title: The Changing Landscape of Abortion Access in the United States

Heading: Supreme Court’s Decision Leads to Drastic Decline in Abortion Access

A year ago this week, the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the constitutional right to abortion has had far-reaching consequences. Since then, more than a dozen states have implemented strict bans on abortion, resulting in the closure of numerous reproductive health clinics and a decline in access to abortion care across the United States. However, some states have taken steps to protect and strengthen abortion rights by opening new clinics strategically located near states with restrictive abortion laws.

Analyzing the data on abortion access, Caitlin Myers, an economics professor at Middlebury College, offers insights into the current state of affairs. A year ago, less than 1% of the U.S. population was more than 200 miles away from an abortion provider, with an average distance of 25 miles. However, as of April 2023, 14% of the population is now more than 200 miles away, and the average American is approximately 86 miles away from an abortion provider. These statistics highlight the significant decline in accessibility.

Myers emphasizes the financial barriers that hinder many individuals from accessing abortion care. Lack of funds for travel expenses, childcare, and the inability to take time off from work without losing wages pose significant challenges. Surveys of abortion patients reveal that a substantial portion of them are low-income individuals, often experiencing disruptive life events such as job loss, eviction, or relationship breakdowns. Moreover, these individuals face credit constraints, further limiting their ability to travel easily.

To understand the impact of changes in abortion availability on birth and abortion rates, Myers created the Myers Abortion Facility Database. This comprehensive database, collected over a decade, includes information on clinics, doctors, and hospitals that publicly indicate their provision of abortion services. Myers, along with her team of undergraduate research assistants, constantly updates the database by regularly monitoring changes in operation through Planned Parenthood’s directory and phone calls to individual facilities.

While physical distance remains a significant factor in limited access, the availability of medication abortion pills through mail-order services provides an alternative for some individuals. Myers has created a map that explores how access might further change if limitations on medication abortion are imposed through legal means.

Geographically, southern states such as Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Oklahoma face the most significant challenges in accessing abortion care. These states have experienced substantial declines in accessibility. Idaho, too, has vast distances to cover. Each state has a unique story, influenced by factors such as geography and the timeline of abortion restrictions.

In Texas, the passage of a law in 2013 resulted in the closure of half of the state’s abortion facilities overnight. Despite a subsequent Supreme Court ruling in favor of the clinic challenging these restrictions, very few clinics were able to reopen, leaving Texas residents with limited options. The recent six-week ban enforced in Texas has further exacerbated the situation, forcing individuals seeking abortions to travel out of state or continue with unwanted pregnancies.

Missouri’s abortion facilities have faced intermittent closures over the past decade due to the enforcement of admitting privileges requirements for providers. However, neighboring states such as Illinois have seen an increase in access, providing alternatives for Missouri residents. Dobbs, the recent Supreme Court decision, did not significantly impact Missouri’s existing post-Roe reality.

On a positive note, Maine has expanded abortion access in recent years through innovative policies. The provision of abortion via telehealth and allowing advanced practice clinicians, such as physician assistants, registered nurses, and licensed physicians, to offer abortion care has improved access, particularly for individuals in remote areas near the Canadian border.

In conclusion, the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion rights has had a profound impact on access to abortion care in the United States. While some states have witnessed a decline in accessibility due to restrictive laws, others have implemented progressive policies to protect and expand access. Understanding the evolving landscape of abortion access can inform future advocacy efforts aimed at ensuring reproductive healthcare remains accessible to all individuals, regardless of their geographical location or financial circumstances.

 

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