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Louisianans would live farthest from an abortion clinic if Roe v. Wade were overturned: report

The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
Rosemary Westwood
The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

If states were allowed to shut down legal abortion access, people in Louisiana would face the longest journey to reach an abortion clinic in a liberal state, new data show.

The report from the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion policy and research non-profit, imagined that the U.S. Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade and ended the constitutional right to abortion — an outcome that is possible as soon as next summer, when the court is expected to rule on a major abortion rights case out of Mississippi.

If that were to happen, the Guttmacher Institute estimated that 26 states, mostly in the South and Midwest, would ban abortion, and people in those states would need to travel, in some cases for days, to reach a clinic in a state with liberal abortion laws.

To see the interactive map, click here.

Courtesy of the Guttmacher Institute

For Louisianans, it would mean an average 666 miles one way, the longest distance of any state.

“You're talking about somebody attempting to undertake basically a 1,300-mile journey at the minimum,” said Elizabeth Nash, the associate director of state issues at Guttmacher. “You’re asking them to leave their home for many days, all of which is very expensive.”

Abortions cost an average of around $550, she said, and the further along the pregnancy is, the more it costs. Add to that travel, childcare costs and lost wages from days off work and “those costs are in the hundreds of dollars, if not thousands,” Nash said.

Research has shown that people who are poor and women of color are more likely to access abortions. In 2014, half of abortion patients in the U.S. lived at or below the poverty line, according to separate Guttmacher research.

Another study found that in Louisiana, half of all abortion patients had no education beyond high school, 62% were Black, 73% already had children and they came from particularly impoverished parishes.

The pelican state sits in the southeast corner of the country, surrounded by other states with dominantly anti-abortion politics similar to its own: Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia. Guttmacher estimated that the closest clinics for someone traveling from Louisiana would be in Illinois, North Carolina or Kansas.

Nash noted that states unlikely to ban abortion still lack the abundance of clinics that would be needed to absorb thousands of patients streaming in from other states.

“The capacity in those clinics will be upended,” she said.

The map doesn’t take into account the availablity of medication abortion — a common abortion procedure that could face its own restrictions, but might still be used by people seeking abortions in states where they might be banned.

States have enacted more than 100 abortion restrictions in 2021, more than any other year, according to Guttmacher.

“The genesis of this map was essentially that 2021 feels different,” Nash said. “We have a Supreme Court that is solidly anti-abortion, and we had state legislatures taking up abortion bans very quickly.”

But the major threat to abortion rights is the lawsuit over a 15-week ban passed in Mississippi in 2018. That same year, Louisiana passed a nearly identical law modeled on Mississippi’s, but Louisiana’s law only takes effect if Mississippi’s is upheld.

Mississippi’s law has been blocked by lower federal courts because it directly contradicts a foundational holding of Roe v. Wade, which forbids abortion bans before a fetus is viable, typically around 24 weeks.

This spring, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case on exactly that point: whether states can ban abortions before viability. If they can, that would undo a key component of abortion precedents for nearly 50 years.

With a 6-3 conservative majority on the court in the wake of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death and the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, there is widespread speculation that the court could use the case to directly overturn Roe v. Wade and a subsequent landmark abortion decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

On Monday, the court heard arguments in a separate case — a six-week abortion ban in Texas that has been enforced for months becuase it was written to avoid the oversight of federal courts. Clinics in Texas have largely stopped providing abortions after six weeks of gestation, essentially nullifying the constitutional right to an abortion in the meantime.

The ban has led to Texans going to clinics in Louisiana and other surrounding states for abortions.

Rosemary Westwood is the public and reproductive health reporter for WWNO/WRKF. She was previously a freelance writer specializing in gender and reproductive rights, a radio producer, columnist, magazine writer and podcast host.

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