Oregon is providing more abortions than its residents receive, a sign the state’s abortion laws are less restrictive than in some neighboring states.
According to data released by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week, Oregon residents underwent 7,847 abortion procedures in 2015, out of a total of 8,610 abortions performed within the state — about 11.2 percent of abortions in Oregon were for out-of-state residents.
For comparison, in Idaho, fewer abortions (1,272) were performed than residents received (1,695), with just 4.6 percent for out-of-state residents. Washington had nearly the same number of total abortions and abortions for residents.
“We tend to assume that because abortion is legal that everybody has readily available access to the procedure when needed,” said Grayson Dempsey, executive director for NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon. “The reality is that for women who are in a state like Idaho, they are often needing to cross state lines or get to urban centers to get the care they need.”
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According to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion policy from state to state, Idaho has a number of restrictions in place that make it harder for women to access abortions. Those include state-directed counseling designed to discourage women from having abortions, a 24-hour waiting period and, for minors, consent of a parent.
Oregon has none of those restrictions.
In some cases, women living near the Oregon border may find it closer or more convenient to drive across state lines. That occurs in the Ashland area with women from northern California. The CDC did not provide data from California.
Dempsey said a number of women fly from Alaska to Portland or Seattle to seek abortions.
In other cases, women may cross into Oregon to get certain types of abortions not available where they live. Women in Vancouver, Washington, can get abortions from a local Planned Parenthood clinic. They must travel to a clinic in Portland if they need a second-trimester abortion, which are not offered at the Vancouver clinic.
Oregon is one of only a handful of states that allow nurse practitioners to perform abortions. In 2006, the Oregon board of nursing was the first in the country to rule that aspiration abortion was within the scope of practice for family nurse practitioners.
“It’s really increased access in small and rural communities,” Dempsey said. “That is a huge way in which Oregon is not only progressive in its legislative commitment to reproductive rights but really furthering access for women in ways that have a really practical impact on women needing services.”
Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, recently calculated the distance to the closest abortion facility from every U.S. city with a population of 50,000 or more. They found women in 27 cities must travel more than 100 miles to reach a facility.
Most women pay out-of-pocket for abortions and, because the majority are low-income women, they already face significant financial challenges in accessing abortions, said Dr. Sarah Roberts, associate professor at the university’s Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health research group.
“If women are traveling to other states to avoid restrictive abortion policies, there are additional financial costs to increased travel distance, and it can force women to take time off work or find child care in order to obtain an abortion,” she said.
The CDC report also showed that fewer women are having abortions now than at any time since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. Experts attribute the decline to better access to contraceptives as well as decreased access to abortion services in some states.
That’s led to great variation in the percentages of abortions provided to out-of-state residents across the country. Nearly half of abortions in Kansas were for out-of-state residents, the highest rate in the nation. That could reflect limited access in Missouri, where new requirements that abortion clinics must have admitting privileges at hospitals no more than 15 minutes away has left the state with just one clinic, in St. Louis. The state had five abortion clinics as recently as 2008.
Pro-abortion-rights advocates are now worried changes in the makeup of federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, could lead to Roe v. Wade being overturned.
“Many people in my movement are anticipating that may happen within the next couple of years,” Dempsey said.
That could revert the country back to the pre-Roe scenario where women traveled to states like New York or Oregon to access abortions that were illegal in their home states.
“A lot of women, particularly in Idaho, are already living in what I would call this post-Roe reality that everybody is fearful of,” Dempsey said. “It means that our commitment to reproductive rights (in Oregon) needs to continue to grow as the threat from the national level continues to hit states like Idaho further.”