As Ohio votes on ballot threshold, western Pa. abortion providers brace for influx of patients
The Guttmacher Institute found that the average one-way driving distance for women aged 15-49 in Ohio to the nearest clinic that performs abortions before 12 weeks was 19 miles
Abortion providers and support groups are reporting delays in seeing patients and higher demand for help. (Gloria Rebecca Gomez/States Newsroom)
At Chatham University in Pittsburgh last August, members of the Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus met to discuss what an influx of out-of-state patients, particularly those from Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia, would mean for the commonwealth’s abortion providers.
Panelists at the hearing, just weeks after the landmark ruling that returned the decision on abortion access to the states, made ominous predictions.
“It’s only going to get worse,” Sydney Etheredge, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, said then of the growing demand for abortion care compared to the number of providers.
Sheila Ramgopal, the CEO of Allegheny Reproductive Health Center, testified that in the two months after the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the center had seen an increase in patients and calls.
Now, with Ohio voters slated to consider a ballot measure to raise the majority threshold for constitutional changes on Tuesday, abortion providers are again sounding the alarm on what it could mean for patients trying to access care in Pennsylvania.
Ballot Issue 1, which would raise the majority threshold for changes to the state constitution to 60%, comes just months before Ohio voters are slated to vote on enshrining the right to an abortion in the state constitution in the November general election.
“Pennsylvania has experienced an influx of abortion patients with many of those patients coming from Ohio,” Signe Espinoza, executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, said in a statement to the Capital-Star. “Their patient load is expected to increase significantly if Ohio’s abortion ban, which is currently blocked, ever goes into effect.”
‘Fighting to keep up’
As of 2017 data, just nine clinics provide abortion care in Ohio, and of the state’s 88 counties, 93% are without an abortion provider, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
The low number of clinics offering abortion services means that Ohioans are increasingly reliant on out-of-state providers to access care.
The Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research and policy organization, found that the average one-way driving distance for women aged 15-49 in Ohio to the nearest clinic that performs abortions before 12 weeks was 19 miles.
But that figure varies greatly depending on the weeks of gestation.
For Ohioans trying to access abortion services before 22 weeks, the average one-way driving distance for women aged 15-49 to the nearest clinic that performs abortions is 50 miles. For those attempting to access abortion care after 24 weeks, the distance climbs to 190 miles.
Espinoza said that with only 18 providers in the state trying to meet the demand for care from both in- and out-of-state patients, Pennsylvania’s abortion providers are “fighting to keep up.”
Ohio voters will decide the fate of the reproductive freedom amendment in the November general election.
Espinoza told the Capital-Star that the vote will be “critical to protecting abortion access for the region.”
If abortion referendums in other states are any indication, Espinoza said she is optimistic that voters in Ohio will choose to protect abortion access. Last year, voters in Kansas rejected an amendment that would have ended abortion rights in that state. Kentucky voters also defeated a measure that said there was no constitutional right to an abortion.
“We believe Ohioans will resoundingly vote in favor of reproductive freedom in November, like voters [in] nearly every other state that has had abortion on the ballot since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade,” Espinoza said.
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