People in the rural Mountain West are used to traveling long distances for services – but for many of those seeking abortions, the distances are growing even longer.
“Even somebody who is used to driving a couple of hours for a dentist appointment, we’re now talking distances that … are in the hundreds of miles,” said Katrina Kimport, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco.
Kimport works at Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at UCSF and has interviewed hundreds of women who have considered and obtained abortions. She said these long trips can mean spending more money on a place to stay and more time away from work.
She added that people tend to want an abortion as soon as possible after making that decision, but flights booked late tend to be the most expensive. Gas is more expensive now, too.
“They want to have the shortest period of time between when they decide they want an abortion and when they are able to maintain one, and what travel does is it extends that period of time,” she said.
“But even people who don’t have to travel in many states are looking at an extension of that time because the places that they’re going, the clinics that are local to them, are now seeing an influx in out-of-state patients.”
In the Mountain West, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and Arizona are currently fighting court battles as they try to enforce abortion bans in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in June. Some of Idaho’s abortion restrictions have already gone into effect, though others are in question as the Department of Justice sues the state.
But as abortion providers close up shop, those seeking the procedure may head to neighboring states like Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.
Travel costs will be a challenge for many, though. Research from the Guttmacher Institute in 2014 found that 75% of those seeking abortions are low-income. Most surveyed also had kids and would have to pay for childcare while losing out on work hours to travel long distances.
There are services to help fund travel for abortion, but Kimport said she doesn’t think there will be enough to meet demand.
Beyond finances, she said the increased travel takes an emotional toll, as people are often forced to go to cities they don’t know without family or friends to support them. It also increases stigma.
“The idea that you would have to travel suggests that there is something you should be ashamed of because it’s not available in your community or your home state,” she said.
Kimport wrote about the costs of abortion travel in The Conversation.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.