Women in Texas must now travel 20 times farther for an abortion as a result of the state’s new ban, according to an analysis of anti-abortion measures introduced in a half dozen states amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Under Texas’s statewide ban, the average one-way distance a woman must travel to reach the nearest abortion provider would increase from 12 miles to 243 miles, according to a new study by the research group the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights.
“The greater the increase in travel distance, the greater the hardship it causes, and the more likely it becomes that some individuals will not be able to get abortion care at all,” the study’s authors wrote.
State officials argue the ban is intended to conserve medical supplies for health workers on the front lines of the coronavirus response. But abortion rights advocates say states are using the pandemic as a pretext to block access.
As the coronavirus spread across the country, Texas and five other states introduced abortion restrictions, some of which are under legal challenge as placing an unconstitutional burden on a woman’s right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.
“Texans know abortion is a time-sensitive procedure that can not be delayed without profound consequences and Texans will remember that when they needed help during a pandemic, their state leaders were too busy politicizing and banning abortion care,” said Aimee Arrambide, executive director of the Texas chapter of the National Abortion Rights Action League.
A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that Texas can temporarily enforce a ban on abortions as part of its pandemic response. That ruling — a 2-1 decision by a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals — stayed a lower court ruling that blocked Texas from carrying out the ban while an appeal from Texas is considered.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) hailed the decision in a statement Tuesday.
"The temporary stay ordered this afternoon justly prioritizes supplies and personal protective equipment for the medical professionals in need," he said.
The statewide bans are ultimately likely to be measured against a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said an abortion restriction is unconstitutional if it burdens on a woman’s right to access outweighs its medical benefits.
Among the abortion restrictions put in place amid the pandemic, Texas’s statewide ban would result in the largest average increase of one-way driving distance a woman seeking an abortion would have to travel, from 12 miles to 243, or 1,925 percent longer, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Other states included in the study were Alabama (from 26 miles to 108, or 315 percent longer), Iowa (from 28 miles to 139, or 396 percent longer), Kentucky (from 69 miles to 109, or 58 percent longer), Ohio (from 15 miles to 120, or 700 percent longer) and Oklahoma (from 14 miles to 155 miles, or 1,007 percent longer).
“Extended travel, or any travel, during the COVID-19 crisis flies in the face of basic public health recommendations and, in some cases, legal orders,” the authors wrote.