A leaked Supreme Court draft opinion shows the nation’s highest court is set to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision that guaranteed a federal right to abortion.
In its absence, states hostile to abortion would be free to ban or severely restrict the procedure. That would leave entire regions of the country without an abortion clinic within a day’s drive, reshaping the geography of abortion access in America in one seismic shift.
Abortion will not be accessible to large swaths of the country
More than half of US states would be certain or likely to ban abortion if the Supreme Court reversed Roe against Wade. Several states already have abortion bans on the books that would no longer be blocked by Roe v Wade, while others have “trigger laws,” which would be implemented if the federal government no longer protected reproductive rights. .
When these states ban abortion, about a quarter of abortion clinics nationwide would close — overwhelmingly in states where clinics are already scarce.
In Cameron County, at the southern tip of Texas, a woman would have to go to a clinic more than 680 miles away in New Mexico. On the winding roads of rural America, it’s over 800 miles: 12 hours on the road.
Women in some states will have to travel more than 500 miles to get to the nearest abortion clinic
A study 2017 found that half of American women live within 11 miles (17 km) of an abortion clinic, but about 20% of them have to travel 43 miles (68 km). Banning abortion in half of the US states would dramatically increase those travel times, especially in the South, where a large number of contiguous states are likely to ban abortion.
But traveling to another state for an abortion may not even be an option. People who seek abortion are disproportionately likely to have low incomes and most already have children. Experts also warn that states can pass laws to prevent women from traveling out of state to seek abortion services.
Abortion is legally protected in some states, but that won’t preclude other restrictions or bans
A handful of states have legal protections for abortion, either in their constitution or in the form of laws. While existing abortion laws may not go into effect immediately after Roe v Wade is overturned, Republicans in some of those states should push to ban abortion.
In Kansas, for example, the constitution protects a woman’s right to have an abortion, but a referendum in august will determine whether this protection will be removed. A survey earlier this year found that more than 60% of Kansans oppose abortion being completely illegal. But the referendum is part of the primary elections, and primary voters tend to be more conservative.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports that Republican senators discussed federal legislation to prohibit abortion after six weeks, called “heartbeat” bills by proponents. Many women don’t know they’re pregnant until after six weeks, and a study 2018 found that younger women, women of color and women without a college degree are more likely to know after seven weeks.
Together, these new restrictions could further jeopardize legal protections in states that support abortion rights.