In October 2021, the Guttmacher Institute launched an interactive map to show increases in driving distance for people seeking care in the 26 states certain or likely to ban abortion should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade. Below we provide additional information and context for map users.
What do each of the three legal scenarios mean?
If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns or substantially weakens Roe v. Wade, that decision could allow states to prohibit abortion after certain gestational ages. The map assumes that the 26 states certain or likely to ban abortion would all ban abortion to the fullest extent they can and offers three scenarios to account for different possibilities:
- Total ban: Abortion is prohibited at any point during pregnancy
- 15-week ban: Abortion is prohibited after 15 weeks’ gestation
- 20-week ban: Abortion is prohibited after 20 weeks’ gestation
Does the map offer predictions for how many people in Ban States will travel to Nearest-Clinic States for abortion care?
No. The number of women of reproductive age in Ban States represent potential abortion patients who would find their closest provider in a Nearest-Clinic State should they want and need an abortion. Only a small percentage of these women would actually seek an abortion at any given time.
Does the map offer predictions for which states people will travel to for an abortion?
No. For people in each of the 26 states categorized as Ban States, the map indicates the nearest provider in a state not likely to ban abortion (Nearest-Clinic State). However, someone seeking an abortion may consider factors other than driving distance, including how soon they can get an appointment, how many abortion restrictions they might have to navigate in a particular Nearest-Clinic State and what other modes of transportation are available to them.
Why is the average driving distance shorter for a total ban scenario than for a 15-week or 20-week scenario in many cases? Isn't a total ban the most restrictive scenario?
The distance under the total ban scenario is the average driving distance to the nearest provider that offers any abortion care. Because more providers offer abortion care earlier in pregnancy, a person seeking an abortion at 10 weeks, for example, would not have to drive as far as a person seeking an abortion at 20 weeks, even under a total ban.
Each legal scenario presented on the map shows the average driving distance for all those seeking an abortion under that restriction; the distance some individuals might have to drive for an abortion later in pregnancy could be much farther than the overall average shown.
Why are there multiple Nearest-Clinic States for people traveling from many Ban States?
The nearest abortion provider may be in one of several Nearest-Clinic States, depending on where in a Ban State someone resides. The map breaks down the percentage of people from a Ban State who would find their nearest provider in each respective Nearest-Clinic State. For example, 20% of a state’s population may find their nearest clinic one state to the east, while 80% may find their nearest clinic one state to the west.
Can people use this tool to decide where to get an abortion?
People seeking abortion care should not rely on this tool to find a provider. Please use these resources:
What about the situation in Texas as legal challenges against the state’s six-week abortion ban (S.B. 8) continue?
For the purpose of illustrating driving distances under the three legal scenarios described above, the map shows access to abortion care in Texas at the same level as before the state’s six-week abortion ban went into effect.
Why do driving distances and Nearest-Clinic States vary depending on the legal scenario?
For states certain or likely to ban abortion, the nearest provider for people seeking abortion care and the average distance people have to drive may change based on the legal scenario, as only a subset of providers in Nearest-Clinic States offer care at later gestations.
Why isn’t gender-inclusive language used throughout?
The use of “women” to refer to the population of people impacted by abortion bans reflects the terminology in the U.S. census, from which the data are drawn. We recognize that gender identities are diverse and not everyone who needs an abortion may identify as a woman. We reflect that reality in our language where we can, while also accurately describing the underlying data.
What about people who already travel to another state to find their nearest clinic?
People who already have their nearest abortion provider in another state are included in the total number of people who need to cross state lines under any of the three abortion ban scenarios, even if they are traveling from another Nearest-Clinic State.
What was the methodology used for this research?
We computed driving distance to the nearest abortion clinic using data from the decennial census and the American Community Survey to estimate the geographic spread of women of reproductive age (15–49) in the United States. We used census blocks groups—subdivisions of census tracts and the smallest publicly available unit of analysis—from the 2010 census, in combination with data from the American Community Survey, to estimate the number of reproductive-age women who resided within each block group in 2019. For each block group, we used R open source software to identify abortion providers with the shortest geodetic distance to that block group, computed the driving distance between each of these providers and the population-weighted geographic center of the block group, estimated the driving distance between these pairs using the Open Source Routing Machine and selected the minimum driving distance. For each state and county, we computed average driving distance by weighting each block group within them by the number of reproductive-age women.
Information about abortion clinic locations was obtained from the Guttmacher Institute’s 2017 and 2020 Abortion Provider Census, supplemented by the Abortion Facility Database collected by Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco.
We report the median, rather than the mean, as the average for driving distances. The median distance represents the value where half the women of reproductive age in a state have to travel a farther distance, while half have to travel a shorter distance, to reach their nearest abortion provider. We consider the median a more representative measure, since the mean can be heavily influenced by outliers and may therefore overstate what is typically experienced.