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14% of women say Dobbs decision stalled access to abortion

In states with abortion bans, one in five women said they know someone who struggled to access an abortion post-Roe.

The 2021 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has had far-ranging effects, with new KFF polling showing that one in seven women of reproductive age (18-49) know someone who’s had a hard time accessing an abortion after the decision came out.

In states that enacted abortion bans following the Dobbs decision, that figure was one in five, KFF said.

The Dobbs decision sparked a flurry of new state legislation regarding access to abortion and other forms of reproductive healthcare. Currently, abortion is banned in 14 states. In 11 other states, abortion access is limited by gestational periods.

This latest polling of 1,316 adults, 686 of whom were women and 380 women of reproductive age, paints a picture of abortion access in the United States as told by women’s personal connections.

Overall, 8 percent of women of any age know someone who has had difficulty accessing an abortion since the Dobbs ruling. Among women of reproductive age, that figure is 14 percent.

There are also differences by state policy on abortion. Among all women living in states with total abortion bans, 14 percent said they know someone who’s had a hard time getting an abortion; it’s 21 percent for women of reproductive age in states with total bans.

Another 6 percent of women of any age in states with gestational limits said they know someone who’s struggled with abortion access, compared to 9 percent of women of reproductive age living in those states.

Notably, challenges in accessing abortion exist even in states with no abortion bans. Among women of any age in states with no bans, 7 percent said they know someone who’s had a hard time with abortion access; 12 percent of women ages 18 to 49 in these states said the same.

This could be due to no-ban states absorbing some overflow from states with gestational limits or total bans. For that reason, states without abortion bans are sometimes referred to as “surge states.”

Indeed, around one in five patients seeking an abortion are traveling out of state for it, according to December 2023 data from the Guttmacher Institute. The states with the highest number of patients traveling for abortion care include Florida, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, and North Carolina.

This trend raises numerous questions about the sustainability of abortion access. Data shows that travel distances can be a key deterrent discouraging abortion access, as patients face logistical hurdles and battle the high cost of healthcare and travel expenses.

Meanwhile, a murky legal landscape can leave patients and providers alike wary of the consequences of accessing and conducting an abortion across state lines. Some providers may be reticent to administer an abortion on a patient traveling out of state lest the clinician face professional or legal ramifications.

What’s more, there is the overall question of how interstate travel for abortion access impacts states where the procedure is still legal. With increased patient volumes, abortion providers may be squeezed to provide treatment to everyone who comes to the clinic.

According to an October 2023 analysis from the Society for Family Planning, these states are absorbing a lot of the patients traveling from states with abortion restrictions.

In particular, states with six-week or near-total abortion bans saw abortion access plummet by 114,590 procedures between July 2022 and June 2023 compared to baseline data from April and May 2022. That shakes out to 94,930 fewer abortions in states with near-total bans and 19,660 fewer abortions in states with six-week bans.

Conversely, in states where abortion remained legal after six weeks, abortion access increased by a cumulative 116,790 procedures.

The impact of higher patient volumes remains to be seen. Assessing patient care access in surge states could be a key research area moving forward.

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