How abortion access will change for Acadiana residents if Roe v. Wade is overturned

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Acadiana residents seeking an abortion would likely have to travel 750 miles to Kansas or 1,000 to New Mexico to get an abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to overturn Roe v. Wade, a landmark case that secured abortion rights for Americans in 1973. If that happens, Louisiana and other states have laws that would immediately go into effect either severely limiting or effectively ban abortion access.

Abortion would become illegal in Louisiana immediately if the leaked draft of the U.S. Supreme Court opinion that would overturn the 1973 Roe v Wade decision guaranteeing women the right to an abortion stands when it is officially issued in June.

Stricter punishments: Louisiana House passes bill to criminalize abortion with no exceptions for rape, incest

That's because a 2006 "trigger law" authored by former Democratic state Sen. Ben Nevers and signed by former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco is set to go into effect under the scenario.

A bill that would criminalize abortion in Louisiana with no exceptions for rape or incest if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its historic Roe v. Wade decision neared final passage in June after clearing the House on a bipartisan vote.

Democratic Monroe Sen. Katrina Jackson's bill specifically exempts pregnant women from prosecution but doubles the 2006 penalties for doctors or others who terminate pregnancies to a maximum $100,000 fine and 10 years in jail.

Other Southern states like Georgia have near-total bans that make abortion illegal after six weeks of pregnancy.

Florida would be Louisiana residents' closest option, but the future of access in the state is unclear. Florida recently passed a law outlawing abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, making it a relatively non-restrictive state among those with partial bans, most of which don’t permit abortions after six weeks.

Whether Florida officials limit access further if Roe is overturned remains to be seen.

New Mexico has some of the most accessible abortion laws in the country. No waiting periods or parental involvement are required. The state has clinics in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe, all about 1,000 miles – 14-hour drives – from Lafayette.

A map of abortion access by U.S. state if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court.
A map of abortion access by U.S. state if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court.

Though the trips to Wichita or Kansas City would be shorter – around 750 miles – Kansas has more restrictions, according to the Guttmacher Institute:

  • A patient must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage them from having an abortion, and then wait 24 hours before the procedure is provided.

  • Private insurance policies cover abortion only in cases of life endangerment, unless individuals purchase an optional rider at an additional cost.

  • The use of telemedicine to administer medication abortion is prohibited.

  • The parents of a minor must consent before an abortion is provided.

  • A patient must undergo an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion; the provider must offer the patient the option to view the image.

  • An abortion may be performed at 20 or more weeks post-fertilization (22 weeks after the last menstrual period) only in cases of life or severely compromised physical health.

Charlotte, North Carolina, is another option – closer than New Mexico but containing barriers similar to Kansas.

The costs of traveling to other states to receive an abortion and associated medical bills would disproportionately impact low-income individuals.

In 2014, 49% of abortion patients had a family income below the federal poverty level, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Abortion pills

Although medical clinics would cease providing abortion procedures, there is another increasingly popular method to get an abortion. Taking pills account for over half of abortions in the U.S., according to 2020 data from the Guttmacher Institute.

That means more people from Louisiana and other states where abortion bans go into effect will likely rely on pills, which can be mailed to the Louisiana homes from other states -- interstate commerce that can only be regulated by the federal government.

The Louisiana legislature, however, has its eyes on restricting access to these as well.

Senate Bill 388, introduced in early June by Slidell Republican Sen. Sharon Hewitt, would make it illegal for companies to provide the two drugs — mifepristone and misoprostol — through the mail with criminal penalties as consequences.

The share of people using abortion pills has grown rapidly since the process became easier to access in 2016 and during the coronavirus pandemic and is anticipated to rise even higher if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

The two pills, mifepristone and misoprostol, are taken about two days apart. In many areas only a telemedicine visit is required to get them from a pharmacy. The pills are cheaper and less invasive than an abortion procedure, and when used within the first 10 weeks of gestation they safely terminated 99.6% of pregnancies with very low complication rates.

More: Louisiana Legislature passes bill to ban mail-order abortion drugs

Hewitt has stressed criminal penalties won't apply to women who order or take the drugs, only to the companies that ship them. The bill doesn't outlaw emergency contraceptives such as what's known as the "morning after" pill.

Louisiana law already requires that the abortion drugs only be dispensed and taken in the physical presence of a doctor, but Hewitt said current law "isn't clear enough."

Hewitt's bill now goes to Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards' desk and will become law Aug. 1 unless he vetoes the legislation.

This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: How far Lafayette residents would have to travel for an abortion under ban