White Paper Addresses Public Health Impacts of State-Level Abortion Restrictions

A new white paper on the public health impacts of state-level abortion restrictions released by the Bridging the Divide project at the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health provides an overview of recent research findings and is designed as a resource for policymakers, advocates, and the media. 

In the United States, abortion is extensively regulated and has been extensively studied. A first-trimester abortion is one of the safest medical procedures, and carrying a pregnancy to term involves far greater risks of serious complications and death than abortion does. However, the recent wave of regulations reducing access to abortion care is not based on compelling evidence that these additional limitations will improve public health. In fact, a growing body of research documents the ways in which public health suffers when laws reduce abortion access.  

This paper reviews several types of restrictions that affect abortion access and summarizes recently published scientific evidence on the public health impacts of state-level abortion restrictions not rooted in science. These include restrictions on insurance coverage, gestational limits, waiting periods, state-mandated information, restrictions on medication abortion, and requirements on abortion facilities and providers that are far more burdensome than necessary to ensure patient safety.

In many states, women seeking abortions encounter multiple barriers simultaneously. As new laws lead to clinic closures and require multiple clinic visits 24-72 hours apart, women face difficulties securing appointments and traveling to facilities far from their homes. As travel and procedure costs rise but laws prohibit insurers from covering abortions, women with lower incomes are particularly affected. Delays can result in women having later abortions than they desired, and in some cases prevent them from receiving desired abortions at all.

“The Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt struck down provisions of a Texas abortion law because the Justices saw substantial evidence of burdens but not of benefits,” said Susan F. Wood, PhD, Associate Professor and Director of the Jacobs Institute of Women's Health at the George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health. “This paper reviews the high-quality research that provides such evidence, and we hope it is useful to those considering policy changes that will affect abortion services.”

Bridging the Divide is a project of the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health and brings together researchers, policy-makers, and policy advocates with an active interest in women’s and reproductive health issues in order to improve the impact of each community in advancing their common goals. 

Read the white paper: Public Health Impacts of State-Level Abortion Restrictions: Overview of Research & Policy in the United States