UC Berkeley researchers find distance from abortion facilities limits access

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Physical distance from abortion facilities may limit accessibility for those seeking abortions, according to a study published by the UC Berkeley School of Public Health.

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A new study published by UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health revealed that physical distances from abortion facilities may pose insurmountable barriers for those seeking abortions in the United States.

The study, published in JAMA Network Open on May 13, showed a correlation between living 50 miles or more from an abortion facility and still being pregnant four weeks later. Those who lived 50 miles or more were either still seeking abortion care four weeks after their initial search or planned to continue the pregnancy, according to the study

Ushma Upadhyay, an author of the study and an associate professor in the Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science department at UCSF, said in an email that the findings of the study should demonstrate to lawmakers the potential impact of overturning Roe v. Wade and banning abortions.

“If Roe is overturned, state abortion bans will create tremendous barriers to abortion,” Upadhyay said in the email. “This will have dire consequences for individuals and their families.”

According to Upadhyay, the team found the participants of the study using Google advertisements. People who searched for abortions were shown advertisements inviting them to volunteer to participate in the study.

This strategy, according to Upadhyay, allowed the team to reach people early in the abortion-seeking process, which differed from previous studies that interviewed people in clinics who were able to overcome the “distance barriers.”

Elizabeth Pleasants, another author of the study and a doctoral candidate in the campus’s School of Public Health program, said in an email that in a cohort of pregnant people from all 50 states and Washington D.C. who were considering abortion, only 48% obtained their desired abortion four weeks later.

According to Pleasants, the study was conducted between 2017 and 2018 and participants took online surveys at baseline and four weeks later. The data was analyzed in 2021, which is when the team explored the association between distance from an abortion facility and abortion and pregnancy outcome four weeks later.

“The harmful effects of travel distance to reach an abortion facility can be mitigated by supporting the use of innovative approaches to abortion care, such as telehealth provision and effective support for self-managed medication abortion,” Pleasants said in the email.

According to Upadhyay, abortion care, like other pregnancy care, is often out of reach for many people living in rural parts of the country.

Upadhyay added that people should be able to access healthcare regardless of where they live.

“Abortion care is healthcare,” Upadhyay said in the email. “There is a great need to ensure that all pregnant people can access safe pregnancy-related healthcare regardless of the state they live in.”

Contact Anna Armstrong at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @annavarmstrongg.