Study: Distance to Get an Abortion Shorter Than Distance to Get to Work

National   |   Jacqueline Harvey, Ph.D.   |   Aug 6, 2013   |   12:47PM   |   Washington, DC

The Guttmacher Institute (GI) just released a study entitled, “How Far Did US Women Travel for Abortions in 2008?” by Rachel Jones and Jenna Jerman.  This study indicates that 71 percent of patients traveled fewer than 25 miles and 85 percent traveled fewer than 50 miles to obtain an abortion.

Considering that abortion is an elective, not emergency procedure which, according to another study by Jones, will likely not be sought more than once or twice over a woman’s lifetime, these findings would suggest no that there is no substantial hardship facing the 2 percent of women seeking abortions each year, most of whom live fewer than 15 miles from an abortion provider given the median distance reported in the study was only 15 miles each way.

This is consistent with a similar study released in February, which found that 77 percent of women reported no difficulty making the possible 21 mile round-trip to the abortion clinic. In fact, abortion may be more accessible than other elective outpatient surgeries, even medically-necessary procedures. It may actually be closer to the patient than even her own workplace.

In short, while 25 miles each way to an abortion provider would not be burdensome considering the infrequency of these visits, the median is actually only 15 miles. On average, women traveled 30 miles each way. RRA conducted an examination of a study by Ibis Reproductive Health researchers in Texas which claimed women travel an average of 42 miles to obtain an abortion, with some women traveling up to 400 miles. The study, conducted by Daniel Grossman, attempted but failed to demonstrate that a 2011 law which mandates two trips to the abortion clinic caused burdens for women. This study was an unpublished summary released prematurely, a problem featured frequently on RRA and lacking in details in methodology.

Since Texas law exempts women living over 100 miles from the clinic (and there is not a geographic point in Texas greater than 200 miles from an abortion provider), it was clear that this figure was not merely round-trip, but also must have included both clinic visits as well. This would mean that the average distance was 10.5 one-way and 21 miles for a round-trip.  This is consistent with Jones & Jerman’s figure of fewer than 25 miles.

Since the mean (average) presented by Jones & Jerman is 30 miles and the mean presented by Grossman 42 miles from Texas, a substantially larger geographic area, these figures would still be comparable, but merit verification. To ensure accuracy, Grossman will be contacted and asked if this mean figure is one-way or round-trip in spite of what appears to be an obvious aggregate. The unpublished summary provided to the media and received directly from the Ibis Reproductive Health following an RRA request lacks this information and suggests this figure may not be one-way, but this could be an error due to the lack of information in the summary, and if so, RRA wishes to promptly address that error.

Furthermore, Jones herself authored another study on repeat abortions, citing a study that only one in five women will have more than one abortion in her lifetime. She also cited that for women who have repeat abortions, these are unlikely to exceed two or three procedures and that the average length of time between abortions was 27 months.

By this, we can gather that few women will make the trip of less than 25-miles more than once, and those who do make the trip more than once will not do so more frequently than twice in a three-year period. Jones’ previous study attempts to make the dual case that a.) women do not use abortion in the place of contraception and b.) women who do have repeat abortions should be compelled to use contraception, a case which promotes the GI agenda.

Unfortunately, that study damages her agenda with this study, to attempt to paint a rare trip of fewer than 25 total miles as a significant burden for women. This is especially true considering that the average round-trip daily commute is 32 miles, or 16 miles each way and, according to this study, most women travel 15 miles and fewer than 25-miles once outliers are considered.

In fact, there are reasons to believe that abortion may actually be more convenient and accessible than similar types of elective, outpatient surgery.

One study on elective bariatric surgeries in Texas found a median of 25 miles for travel which increased to 46 miles for patients on Medicare, which is greater than the distance women travel for abortions in Texas according to Grossman regardless of whether the figure is one-way or round-trip.  Studies like these that gauge the distance to the surgery center are not examining patient convenience like Grossman and Jones & Jerman, but concerns about on-going care for surgeries that require multiple trips to the clinic for monitoring.

While the article condemns legislation that requires two trips to the clinic, it is virtually unheard to undergo a surgical procedure without first obtaining a consultation.

One study shows that breast cancer patients in Pennsylvania travel a median of 24 miles for the consultation required prior to a mastectomy which is greater than the 15 mile median Jones & Jerman report that women travel for an abortion. In general, Americans travel 10.2 miles each way to visit a physician or a dentist, over 20 miles round-trip. A distance of less than 25 miles to visit a clinic that specializes in abortions is therefore indicative of great ease when obtaining an abortion, rather than a case for overturning laws enacted by state legislatures at the request of constituents.

Studies of this nature are written for that very purpose: to challenge these laws which inhibit the abortion industry. Jones & Jerman admit that their study was intended “to inform public policy and, in particular, counter attempts to impose restrictions that could increase distances women have to travel, or the number of visits required, to obtain an abortion.”

The Grossman study was used in a failed attempt to overturn Texas law that requires waiting periods. Other GI studies are cited in court challenges to state laws that impose regulations which would close abortion facilities, claiming that increasing the travel presents an insurmountable obstacle to obtaining abortion and therefore violates this precedent established in Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Yet, these studies fail to establish significant burdens that prevent women from accessing abortion. In fact, even this median 30-mile trip taken with the infrequency that Jones cited in her previous study suggests that abortion is widely available and accessed with with ease for most women.

LifeNews Note: Jacqueline Harvey is a scholar of public policy and bioethics from Texas who works as a consultant in social services, primarily in statistics as a non-profit program evaluator and policy analyst. Dr. Harvey’s background includes both undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work, as well as a Ph.D. in Public Administration and Public Policy from the University of North Texas, with considerable coursework in public health and healthcare administration from the University of North Texas Health Science Center. Reprinted with permission from Reproductive Research Audit.