Here’s where abortion access would decline if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court’s decision Monday to hear a case about a Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks could end up weakening or even overturning Roe v. Wade. Depending on the ruling, legal abortion access could effectively end for those living in much of the American South and Midwest, especially those who are poor, according to an analysis updated this week.

In more than half of states, though, legal abortion access would be unchanged, according to the analysis, a version of which we first covered in 2019. (We have updated our reporting along with the analysis.)

“A post-Roe United States isn’t one in which abortion isn’t legal at all,” Caitlin Knowles Myers, an economist at Middlebury College and a co-author of the research, said in our earlier report. She obtained and analyzed the new data for The New York Times recently. “It’s one in which there’s tremendous inequality in abortion access.”

Today there is at least one abortion clinic in every state, and most women of childbearing age live within an hour’s drive or so of one, the analysis found. If Roe were overturned, abortion would be likely to quickly become illegal in 22 states. Forty-one percent of women of childbearing age would see the nearest abortion clinic close, and the average distance they would have to travel to reach one would be 279 miles, up from 35 miles now.

As distances to clinics increase, abortion rates decline, research shows. Women who can’t afford to travel to a legal clinic or arrange child care or leave from work for the trip are most affected. Also, remaining clinics would not necessarily be able to handle increased demand. A study from a different research team on the effects of abortion clinic closings in Wisconsin showed a similar relationship between increased drive times and the number of abortions performed at clinics.

Without Roe, the number of legal abortions in the United States would be at least 14% lower, Myers and her colleagues estimated. That could mean about 100,000 fewer legal abortions a year, they found. The number is impossible to predict precisely, because new clinics could open on state borders, and some people could order abortion pills by mail, or obtain illegal surgical abortions, which may be dangerous.

David Adams

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