Travel assistance for out-of-state abortions is already drying up

For months, thousands of people in neighboring states traveled to Oklahoma to seek abortion care, that is, if they could get an appointment and could afford to travel. Now that local lawmakers have passed the nation’s toughest anti-abortion law, they will likely have to travel even farther to receive care. Many will not be able to afford the trip.

Before Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed the near-total ban on abortion, funds to bring out-of-state patients to Oklahoma clinics were already scarce. sufficient to meet demand: One nonprofit operator said a fund was specifically intended to support those who are often in the state. running out of money halfway through the month. About 5,000 people had abortions in Oklahoma in 2019, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While abortion funds have received growing support from states and individuals following the leak of the Supreme Court’s draft decision that could overturn Roe v. Wade said the money might not be enough to cover the rising costs for people who have to travel farther to get the procedure they need because states like Oklahoma ban almost all access to abortion care. Democratic-led states have pledged millions of dollars to clinics and nonprofits in an effort to preserve access to abortion, but the systems in place may still struggle to help everyone. According to the National Network of Abortion Funds, its 90 partner organizations were only able to support 26% of the requests they received in 2019.

“Most of the abortions we fund, which normally cost $500, cost $1,000,” said Sylvia Ghazaria, executive director of the nonprofit Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project. The organization disbursed just under $540,000 in funds to help 2,560 patients last year, and Ghazarian expects payouts to top $1 million this year.

California lawmakers pledged $125 million to expand existing abortion access frameworks in the state, and New York Governor Kathy Hochul pledged $35 million. Kari White, senior researcher at the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, warned that such fixes are helpful, but they might not make ends meet for everyone.

“The funding that these other states are providing will not cover the cost of lost wages or childcare that people will have if they have to travel even longer distances for treatment,” she said. “Easing some of the financial burden in some way will provide support, but we can still expect financial, logistical, and emotional impacts” due to widening abortion deserts.

In September, Texas implemented a ban on abortions after fetal heart activity was detected, about six weeks gestation. The move prompted people to travel elsewhere for the procedure, and 45% of those who left the state for an abortion between September and December headed to Oklahoma, according to a report by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project. That migration came to an abrupt halt after Oklahoma implemented a similar six-week ban earlier this month, clinic workers said.

If Roe were overturned, Kansas, New Mexico and Colorado would be the closest states for many people living in Texas and Oklahoma. But getting there will only be part of the battle. There is a 24-hour waiting period in Kansas, as well as a law that requires a provider to be present when a person takes at least one of the abortion pills, which are usually given in a two-step schedule. Residents are also expected to vote on an amendment that would decide whether the state constitution protects abortion rights in August. And 90% of New Mexico residents don’t live in a county with an abortion clinic, so a new influx of visitors could swarm the seven facilities currently offering care. The result is a system that may not be able to support the 36 million child-bearing people of childbearing age whose access to care would be threatened if Roe were overthrown.

“I wish people had paid attention to Oklahoma for years, but they didn’t,” said Susan Braselton, state-specific Roe Fund board member and coordinator. clinical escort at the Tulsa Women’s Clinic, a currently banned abortion provider. to provide services under the new law. “So here we are fighting this battle. It’s not impossible to win. It makes sense. We just have to keep doing this.

A total of 15 anti-abortion bills were introduced by Oklahoma lawmakers during the 2022 session, part of a broader effort by state-level lawmakers to build on the record number of restrictions passed in 2021. The bills also build on restrictions, such as requiring a person to wait 72 hours between an initial consultation and their abortion service.

“Care wasn’t necessarily accessible when you had to wait 72 hours and sit on mandatory state information, but it was much more doable” than in Arkansas and Missouri, Emily Wales said, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which operates two reproductive health care centers in Oklahoma. The 72-hour rule in those states requires both appointments to be in person, whereas Oklahoma’s previous rule allowed a virtual visit.

And as onerous as abortion restrictions can be, they often don’t stop people from wanting one, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. Instead, they potentially make the process more expensive, both procedurally and in related costs such as time off, a hotel room, or childcare for a patient’s family. The average cost of any abortion procedure in 2020 was over $550, according to a study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco published in April.

Planned Parenthood’s Wales also warns of the recent wave of companies promising refunds if employees had to relocate as a solution. “If you work in a low-wage job, if you work shifts, there are very few companies in this industry that are going to do that,” she said, adding that even if such efforts are “ incredible commitment”, they mainly benefit full-time workers. Several large employers like Citigroup Inc., Yelp Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc. have pledged to pay travel costs if their employees cannot access abortion care in their home countries.

“If you’re in a privileged position and have access to resources and paid time off, you’ll likely be able to get out of a state that limits abortion care,” Wales said. “If you’re not in those categories, you won’t.”

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