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    What Happens if Roe v. Wade Is Overturned?



    Impact on legal abortion

    States with trigger laws and others deemed likely to ban abortion





    Abortion clinic

    Abortion clinic

    predicted to close

    States predicted to ban abortion

    Areas farthest away from open abortion clinics will see the sharpest declines in access.

    Predicted decline in legal abortions

    States predicted to ban abortion

    Abortion clinic

    Abortion clinic

    predicted to close

    Predicted decline in legal abortions

    States predicted to ban abortion

    Abortion clinic

    Abortion clinic

    predicted to close

    Predicted decline in legal abortions


    Source: Researchers’ estimates

    The almost-certain confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court has increased the chances that Roe v. Wade will be weakened or overturned. If that were to happen, abortion access would decline in large regions of the country, a new data analysis shows.

    Legal abortion access would be unchanged in more than half of states, but it would effectively end for those living in much of the American South and Midwest, especially those who are poor, according to the analysis. (The analysis incorporates more recent data on research we wrote about last year.)

    “A post-Roe United States isn’t one in which abortion isn’t legal at all,” said Caitlin Knowles Myers, an economist at Middlebury College and a co-author of the original research. She obtained and analyzed the new data for The New York Times this month. “It’s one in which there’s tremendous inequality in abortion access.”

    Today, there is at least one abortion clinic in every state, and most women of childbearing age live within an hour’s drive or so of one, the analysis found. Without Roe, abortion would probably become illegal in 22 states. Forty-one percent of women of childbearing age would see the nearest abortion clinic close, and the average distance they would have to travel to reach one would be 280 miles, up from 36 miles now.

    As distances to clinics increase, abortion rates decline, research shows. Women who can’t afford to travel to a legal clinic or arrange child care or leave from work for the trip are most affected. Also, remaining clinics would not necessarily be able to handle increased demand.

    Without Roe, the number of legal abortions in the United States would be at least 14 percent lower, Professor Myers and her colleagues estimated. That could mean about 100,000 fewer legal abortions a year, they found. The number is impossible to predict precisely because new clinics could open on state borders, and some people may order abortion pills by mail or obtain illegal surgical abortions, which may be dangerous.

    Travel distances could increase even if Roe weren’t overturned, because a more conservative court could decide to uphold state laws that decrease access to abortions, such as those that require abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges, require women seeking abortions to wait for long intervals first or restrict the kinds of abortion procedures that are allowed.

    Anti-abortion activists and politicians who have sought the elimination of Roe have long pinned their hopes on state legislatures to pass these kinds of laws, because passing abortion restrictions through Congress has proved difficult.

    “It would be a whole lot better for abortion policy if the states were allowed to have their regulations stood up and unchallenged,” said Charmaine Yoest, the vice president for the Institute for Family, Community and Opportunity at the Heritage Foundation, and the former president of Americans United for Life. “You would have the laws reflecting the folks in those states, and that’s what American federalism is supposed to be.”

    Ms. Yoest noted that not every state that would pursue new abortion regulations would necessarily ban the procedure.

    Long travel distances are already a challenge for women in some areas. In parts of Missouri and Mississippi, where state officials have worked hard to limit abortions, many women live 250 or more miles from the nearest abortion clinic, far enough that their access wouldn’t be changed much if abortion were outlawed. In other parts of the country, like the Northeast and the West Coast, where there is little appetite for abortion restrictions, abortion access is also unlikely to change.

    Ten states, including Idaho and Utah this year, have passed so-called trigger laws, which would automatically ban all abortions without Roe. An additional 12 states are considered highly likely to pass new abortion bans in a new legal environment, based on recent legislative action and state court rulings. Changes in state politics have made other states, like Wisconsin, less likely to do so.

    “What’s interesting about the modeling is it’s less about Judge Barrett being confirmed to the Supreme Court than the importance of the state politics, and the state politics become that much more important in a world without Roe,” Professor Myers said.


    Impact on legal abortion

    States with trigger laws





    Abortion clinic

    States predicted to ban abortion

    Abortion clinic

    predicted to close

    Predicted decline in legal abortions

    States predicted to ban abortion

    Abortion clinic

    Abortion clinic

    predicted to close

    Predicted decline in legal abortions

    States predicted to ban abortion

    Abortion clinic

    Abortion clinic

    predicted to close

    Predicted decline in legal abortions


    Source: Researchers’ estimates

    The estimates are based on two elements: research of how recent clinic closings in Texas affected abortion rates among women whose driving distance to providers increased, and two sets of assumptions about which states might outlaw abortion if Roe were overturned.

    That research was published last year in the journal Contraception by Professor Myers; Rachel K. Jones, a sociologist at the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports reproductive rights; and Ushma Upadhyay, an associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco. It was updated for The New York Times this month by Professor Myers to account for changes in state laws and the locations of abortion clinics. She has been paid by abortion rights groups as an expert witness.

    A recent study from a different research team on the effects of abortion clinic closings in Wisconsin showed a similar relationship between increased drive times and the number of abortions performed at clinics.


    How changes in driving distance affected the number of abortions in Texas




    If the clinic originally was …

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    In counties where the clinic was initially five miles away, a 100-mile increase in distance reduced abortions by about 30 percent.

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    Legal scholars cannot predict what the Supreme Court will do, and Judge Barrett in her confirmation hearings this week declined to give her views on abortion law.

    “I think what’s more likely to happen, rather than have a full-on immediate reversal of Roe, is they take on some of these new regulations and see how much they can achieve without having that out-and-out reversal,” said Gillian Metzger, a professor of constitutional law at Columbia.

    Even with that strategy, the decrease in access to abortion could look very similar to what Professor Myers and her co-authors mapped out. The data is based on what happened in Texas when a law, before it was overturned, restricted access to abortion but did not ban it. The Supreme Court could now decide to uphold such laws, Professor Metzger said.

    “If the question is will we see reductions in access, yes, I think we will,” she said.

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