COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – As states regain the right to permit or restrict access to abortions, pregnant people in Ohio may soon have to travel for the procedure.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said he will seek to remove an injunction blocking a “heartbeat bill” passed in 2019 that effectively bans abortions six weeks after conception, before many people may even know they’re pregnant. And other legislation remains under consideration at the Statehouse.
“It’s fine if I live in Ohio and I can get on a jet and I can fly to California, have my procedure and maybe sit on Redondo Beach,” Iris Harvey, president of Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, said in a recent interview.
Women of color and those living in rural areas – who historically have lacked access to healthcare and may be poorer – may feel the greatest impact, Harvey said.
“Imagine that you have a job and family responsibilities. And now you have to travel hundreds of miles? Stay overnight, perhaps? Bear the cost of lodging and travel?” Harvey said. “It is an incredible imposition on people.”
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, abortion will remain legal in 16 states that have those rights are enshrined under state law: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
None of those states borders Ohio. Of the state’s neighbors — Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana — abortion services may remain legal the longest in Pennsylvania, where a Democratic governor has said he will veto any abortion bills from the Republican-controlled legislature.
But Gov. Tom Wolf is ineligible for a third consecutive term and not on the November ballot. Whoever succeeds him may determine the outlook long-term. The closest Planned Parenthood facility in Pennsylvania to Columbus — using the Ohio Statehouse as the address — is about 185 miles away in Pittsburgh.
Abortion in Pennsylvania is legal through the 24th week of pregnancy, but only one full day after counseling.
As for Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia, the Guttmacher Institute said abortion services will likely be outlawed in all three.
In Michigan, a 1931 law rendered moot by Roe had criminalized abortion. The Associated Press reported in May that a judge temporarily suspended its enforcement, saying it violated the state constitution, but clinics there may stop offering services considering the matter is unresolved.
Going beyond Ohio’s border states, New York and Illinois are the closest to have the right to an abortion guaranteed. A Planned Parenthood location in Buffalo is the closest in New York to the Ohio border, but about 330 miles from Columbus.
Planned Parenthood of Illinois opened several abortion clinics in recent years, including near the borders of Wisconsin and Indiana, the latter outside Chicago in Flossmoor.
“Basically to kind of expand access to out-of-state patients, so they have a little bit more convenience in getting into a health center in Illinois,” said Valerie Forest, assistant public health manager.
A location in Champaign is the closest Illinois clinic to Columbus, at about 295 miles, but that’s still a 4 1/2-hour drive.
Forest said out-of-state patients can travel there, book an appointment – either in-person or telehealth, which can be completed from one’s vehicle – and pick up medication for an abortion or have a procedural (in-person) abortion.
Ohio Right to Life spokesperson Lizzie Whitmarsh, however, said it is working to encourage pregnant Ohioans to opt for alternatives to abortion.
Whitmarsh said Ohio is home to more than 120 crisis pregnancy centers – outnumbering the 13 abortion clinics by 14 to 1 – that materially and financially support pregnant people. From diapers to clothing to even a new car, Whitmarsh said they’re equipped with a number of resources to help pregnant Ohioans.
“These organizations are more than willing and capable to go above and beyond to make sure that every woman has the resources that she needs,” Whitmarsh said. “And that’s really where our focus is.”
Kersha Deibel, CEO of Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio, said her clinic is collaborating with Planned Parenthood locations across the U.S. to create patient referral networks. Many of her clinic patients have never traveled outside of the state, Deible said, so brainstorming ways to support clients is a priority.
“How do we make sure that those patients have support as they’re traveling hundreds of thousands of miles out of state to get the care?” Deibel said. “Who are the people that are in the driver’s seat or the passenger seat riding alongside them, and what are those financial obligations that we need to make sure that patients have access to?”
With 33 abortion-restricting laws in place in Ohio, about 93% of the state’s 88 counties do not have an abortion clinic, Deibel said. Regardless of what she called a “world of dystopia” Ohioans are already living in, Deibel said Planned Parenthood will continue to provide other services – like cancer screenings, STI screenings and contraception.
“We will be referring out patients to the places in which will welcome our patients with non-judgmental care, warm arms that bring them in so that they can get the care just as they have experienced in the state of Ohio for many years,” Deibel said.