Anti-choice crusaders often claim that closing abortion clinics lowers the abortion rate. Research has consistently found that this strategy doesn’t work. According to a new study published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, decreased access to abortion clinics has an unintended consequence. When women travel long distances for abortion, the costs of abortion aftercare skyrocket. This puts already vulnerable women in a difficult financial position. And in some cases, taxpayers may be left holding the bill–as is the case when women visit emergency rooms and can’t afford to pay for their care.
Abortion Clinic Access and Abortion Costs
Researchers gathered data on nearly 40,000 abortions occurring between 2011 and 2012. The procedures were covered under California’s Medicaid program, which–unlike most state Medicaid programs–covers some abortion services. The study found a direct correlation between traveling long distances for an abortion and needing post-abortion medical care.
Abortion is a simple and safe medical procedure, so most abortion-seekers require no follow-up care. Even fewer need emergency care. Yet when women traveled more than 100 minutes to a clinic, they were 230% more likely to seek follow-up care in an emergency room. This trend persisted regardless of the type of abortion the woman had. This cost Medicaid programs a median $941. Women who traveled back to clinics cost Medicaid a median $536.
The study argues that patients visit emergency departments when they can’t easily get their follow-up questions answered. When access to abortion clinics is limited, and when discussions of abortion are stigmatized, women are less able to access the information they need.
How Increases in Abortion Costs Affect Women
All women included in the study were Medicaid recipients. But the study suggests that poor clinic access likely drives up costs for all women. Since Medicaid does not fund abortion in most states, this leaves women to shoulder the costs of abortion. Because lack of clinic access drives up costs, women are bearing costs they otherwise would not have to. We already know that many women delay their abortions for financial reasons. Some even choose life-threatening do-it-yourself abortions. This adds one more layer of financial barriers to abortion.
This, of course, is precisely what anti-choice activists want. Some claim that skyrocketing costs lower the abortion rate, but there’s no evidence to support this. What’s more, we already know that women denied access to abortion fare poorly. The Turnaway Study, an ongoing project that looks at women denied abortions, has found they are more likely to end up in poverty, more likely to remain in abusive relationships, and more likely to suffer poor mental health.
Removing abortion clinic access harms women and, when they choose to have them, their babies.
Lowering the Abortion Rate Without Hurting Women
Under the Affordable Care Act, the abortion rate declined. This suggests that affordable contraceptives do more to lower abortion rates than does decreased clinic access. Research has also consistently shown that a few simple strategies can significantly lower the abortion rate. Those include comprehensive sex education, access to contraceptives, family-friendly leave policies, affordable health care, and a stronger safety net.
Republican anti-choice activists consistently oppose these policies. This shows that their opposition has little to do with “protecting life,” and everything to do with punishing women. Forcing women to go to the emergency room for abortion aftercare is just one more way to penalize them for making a choice anti-choicers resent.