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Restrictions Make Abortions Harder and Later, Not Less Common

Update Date: Jun 16, 2017 02:15 PM EDT

Many pro-life politicians believe that if they make abortions harder to obtain in their state by closing down providers like Planned Parenthood, or by refusing to expand Medicaid so that it does not cover abortions, the number of abortions will go down. A new study finds that this is not making abortions less frequent, just more costly, especially for low-income women.

Abortion fund recipients who have to travel out of state for an abortion travel roughly 10 times farther for their procedures than patients able to get care in their home states. Most of these cases are occurring in the southeastern and midwest United States where Medicaid has not been extended to cover abortions or restrictions on abortion coverage have been put in place on private insurers. It is against federal law for Medicaid to fund an abortion. However, many states have opted to extend medicaid to provide for this service for Medicaid-eligible patients. 

If you cannot afford an abortion, you can request funding for the procedure from an advocacy fund like the Tiller Memorial Fund. Sometimes it takes weeks or even months for a low income patient to receive funds for her procedure. This puts a burden on people living in states where late term abortions are restricted because they must travel out of state to get the procedure done. 

"On average, abortion fund recipients who receive funds from advocacy organizations to help pay for abortion costs travel close to 172 miles from their homes to a health care provider for the procedures," said Gretchen Ely, an associate professor at the University at Buffalo School of Social Work. 

A study by Ely published in the International Journal of Sexual Health shows that policy restricting public funding for abortions is forcing abortion fund patients to travel greater distances to receive and abortion. Those distances are increasing over time, making abortion for low-income women more expensive and more dangerous.

The study analyzed about 3,452 cases from 2010 to 2015 from the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF), a group that helps patients pay for the cost of an abortion by pledging funds directly to health care providers.  

Many of the abortion restrictions put in place since 2010 are restrictions on late term abortions. Since it takes time to get funding approved for an abortion if you are low-income, the burden of risk on these patients is easy to spot. This distance increased from 2010 to 2015, with patients seeking second trimester procedures expecting to travel nearly three times farther than patients in their first term according to Ely's study.

"This suggests they're either having problems accessing a provider or they are having difficulty getting the money to pay for an abortion, pushing the procedure closer to the second trimester," says Ely, a full-fellow in the Society of Family Planning. "Some state lawmakers believe that policy-based barriers on abortion will minimize the procedure's frequency, but these restrictions instead are apparently creating delays that push abortions into the second trimester, where they are riskier and more expensive."

Restrictions are not reducing the amount of abortions, they are simply making it harder and more dangerous for low-income patients to get the care they need, and turning early abortions into late ones. 

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