Arkansans seeking abortions must travel long distances after Supreme Court ruling

The Arkansans must now travel hundreds of miles to seek abortion care after the US Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday.

Out-of-state travel compounds other barriers to abortion access for Arkansans, including missing work, finding childcare, and complying with a patchwork of regulations in d other states.

The court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade sparked laws banning most abortions in Arkansas and neighboring Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Missouri. Texas and Oklahoma, Arkansas’ other two neighbors, banned abortion before the ruling, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research group.

While the Supreme Court ruling repealed the constitutional right to abortion, it does not prevent people living in abortion-banning states from seeking services in other parts of the country, according to the U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.

“We recognize that travel for reproductive care may not be possible in many circumstances,” Garland said in a statement Friday. “But under fundamental constitutional principles, women who reside in states that have prohibited access to comprehensive reproductive care must remain free to seek such care in states where it is legal.”

At least one Arkansas nonprofit working to increase abortion access saw an influx of support Friday. Arkansas Abortion Support Network received thousands of dollars in donations within hours of the Supreme Court’s decision, said Ali Taylor, co-founder and president of the organization.

“[Donations] are coming in from everywhere,” Taylor said.

More people seeking abortions also contacted the organization on decision day.

Along with community outreach and education, the Arkansas Abortion Support Network provides clinic escort services and helps patients fund abortions. Although the organization does not directly offer travel funds to people seeking abortions, Taylor said the network plans to increase the funding it gives to the procedure to offset travel costs.

The Arkansas Abortion Support Network is connected to other groups, including the Brigid Alliance and the Midwest Access Coalition, which provide travel assistance.

The Brigid Alliance, a New York-based group, helps provide travel, food, housing and other logistical assistance to people seeking abortions, according to its website. The Midwest Access Coalition is based in Illinois and provides support for people traveling to the Midwest for abortions, according to its website.

According to Emily Wales, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, Arkansans who want an abortion may have to travel to New Mexico, Colorado or Illinois.

“It’s a terrible reality for an essential and time-sensitive service provider,” Wales said at a press conference on Friday.

Patients may struggle to find child care or miss work, Wales said.

In 2020, more than 3,000 abortions were obtained in Arkansas, and women ages 15 to 49 traveled an average of 113 one-way miles to a clinic for abortions up to 22 weeks old, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

The drive from Little Rock to Wichita, Kansas, where one of the nearest out-of-state abortion clinics is located, is nearly 450 miles. An abortion clinic in Granite City, Illinois is about 350 miles from Little Rock.

Planned Parenthood Great Plains operates clinics in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Of those states, only Kansas still offers abortions. But before the Supreme Court’s ruling, Kansas health care providers were already struggling to provide services to patients in the state, Wales said. She expected medical professionals would not be able to handle an influx of patients from neighboring states.

Kansas state laws may restrict access to abortion. Patients must wait 24 hours after counseling before receiving abortion treatment and cannot receive treatment after 22 weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Abortion is not restricted by stage of pregnancy in New Mexico or Colorado. In Illinois, abortions are prohibited at fetal viability, usually between 24 and 26 weeks of pregnancy. According to the Guttmacher Institute, all three states allow qualified medical professionals, not just doctors, to perform abortions.

Health care providers have found that patients who have to travel long distances to get an abortion are less likely to make it to their appointments. After bans in Texas and Oklahoma, for example, Wales said many patients who would otherwise have sought abortions were unable to manage hour-long trips to out-of-state clinics.

“For many of these patients, the conversations ended with saying, ‘I just can’t go through the logistics of getting care, even though I’m confident in my decision and my family may be supportive of the choice that I’m going to make.’ I do,'” she said.

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