Respect Poverty

Abortion restrictions will disproportionately burden low-income Americans

Prior research has found that 75 percent of abortion patients were considered poor or low income and any additional barriers to abortion access could be significant for many women.
A general view of an exam room inside the Hope Clinic For Women in Granite City, Illinois, on June 27, 2022. – Abortion is now banned in Missouri. Now, the two nearest clinics are in Illinois: Hope Clinic for Women ten miles (16 kilometers) away in Granite City and Planned Parenthood 15 miles away in Fairview Heights, which was opened in 2019 in anticipation of the ban. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP) (Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images) Getty Images

Story at a glance

  • In a 2014 report, The Guttmacher Institute found that 75 percent of abortion patients were considered poor or low income. 

  • The average cost of a first-trimester aspiration abortion is $508, while a medication abortion averages $535. A second-trimester abortion can cost more than $2,000. 

  • Now that the Supreme Court ruled abortion is not a constitutionally protected right, the cost of getting an abortion is set to increase, with women and families having to add on travel expenses and child care.  

Three out of 4 women who receive an abortion are considered poor or low income, and now that the Supreme Court has overturned the constitutional right to abortion, large swaths of the U.S. population will find the procedure effectively out of reach — facing long distances and high costs. 

Among the 75 percent of abortion patients who are poor or low income, 49 percent live at less than the federal poverty level and 26 percent live at 100 to 199 percent of the poverty level, according to research from 2014

Even though abortion was a protected federal right in 2014, women still struggled to afford the procedure. Many lived in areas of the country that lacked an abortion clinic, adding additional travel expenses to reach an area that did have an available abortion provider. 

Abortion access is hitting an inflection point in the US, after the Supreme Court reversed a nearly 50-year precedent in June and overruled Roe v. Wade. The decision means abortion access is no longer considered a constitutional right. 

At least a dozen states immediately jumped on the court’s decision, enacting strict abortion restrictions and bans, with little to no exception. 

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It’s a situation that abortion policy and advocacy group Guttmacher Institute predicted, writing in its 2014 report that given 75 percent of abortion patients were poor or low income, “any additional barriers to abortion care—including travel and its associated costs, such as lost wages and expenses for childcare, transportation and accommodations—may be significant for many women.”  

An abortion procedure itself can come with a hefty price tag, with the National Abortion Federation (NAF) saying the average cost of a first-trimester aspiration abortion is $508, while a medication abortion averages $535. A second-trimester abortion can cost more than $2,000. 

That cost could increase for thousands of people who now might also need to factor in travel expenses, like those living in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and more — all states that have enacted hostile abortion laws, restricting or outright banning the procedure, according to Center for Reproductive Rights. 

Take, for example, Alabama, which began enforcing a total abortion ban after Roe was overturned. The closest state to Alabama that offers legal abortions is Florida, which has its own restrictive 15-week abortion law in place. After that, the nearest state would be Illinois, which has enshrined the right to abortion within the state’s constitution.  

However, Illinois is more than 700 miles away from Alabama — about a 12-hour drive. 

That means a trip to Illinois for many Alabama residents will require time off from work, child care accommodations and even a plane ticket and hotel stay, all things that can be costly for a low-income person or family. 

The Chicago Abortion Fund (CAF) told Changing America that during the first quarter of this year, 80 percent of the calls it received were from outside of Illinois — including Wisconsin, Kentucky, Ohio, Arizona, Tennessee, Louisiana and Texas.  

“I would say that pretty much everyone who calls the Chicago Abortion Fund is needing financial support to help them access care,” said Qudsiyyah Shariyf, deputy director of CAF. 

Shariyf said the financial needs span from the cost of the abortion appointment itself to having money to travel out-of-state to a legal abortion provider or being able to pay for child care during the process. 

Not receiving a wanted abortion can compound poverty. The 2018 Turnaway Study found that because many women are already experiencing economic hardships at the time they seek an abortion, if they are denied one, they are three times more likely of being unemployed than women who are able to access an abortion. 

Elizabeth Anant, a professor of women and economics, explained in an analysis for Teachers College at Columbia University that, “short term, what you’re going to see is a rise in child poverty. Women use the access to abortion as one of the tools for family planning and for timing birth so that they come at a time when the parent is best able to support a family.”