Louisiana Law Would Drastically Limit Abortion Access

Most Women Would be at Least 150 Miles from an Abortion Facility

By Laura Kurtzman

A Louisiana law that could close all of the state’s abortion facilities by requiring providers to have hospital admitting privileges would force three-quarters of the state’s women to travel 150 miles or more each way for services, an analysis by UC San Francisco researchers has found.

The authors note that the study may actually underestimate the distance women would have to travel, since three of the closest states to Louisiana – Texas, Mississippi and Alabama – also have passed admitting privilege laws and other restrictions that could close more abortion facilities. Since the Texas admitting privileges law took effect, it has caused almost half of that state’s abortion facilities to close. All of these laws, including Louisiana’s, are being challenged in court.

Researchers looked at data from the 5,641 women who received abortions at three of Louisiana’s five facilities between Sept. 1, 2013, and Aug. 31, 2014, the year before the admitting privileges law was scheduled to go into effect. About 80 percent of these women lived in Louisiana; the rest came from other states, mostly Texas.

Louisiana requires the facilities to collect the women’s place of residence, among other data, and the researchers were able to measure the distance that women currently travel for an abortion and how far they would have to travel if all of Louisiana’s facilities closed as a result of the admitting privileges law. The results were published Wednesday, March 4, in Contraception.

The data showed that the Louisiana women in the study had traveled, on average, 58 miles each way to have an abortion. If all of Louisiana’s facilities close, the researchers estimate the average distance would more than triple to 208 miles each way, about the distance from New York to Boston or New Orleans to Jackson. 

These distances could in reality be greater, since some states around Louisiana require women to visit a facility twice before they can receive an abortion.

Researchers noted that forcing Louisiana women to travel further would likely add to the financial difficulties that women already have paying for abortion and contribute to delays in receiving abortion care. 

“Abortion is already a safe procedure, and there’s no evidence that admitting privileges would make it any safer,” said first author Sarah Roberts, DrPH, an assistant professor in the UCSF Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences. 

“Lawmakers should weigh the evidence we do have – that closing abortion facilities will obstruct access to health care, forcing women to travel much longer distances for services – against the absence of evidence that requiring providers to establish admitting privileges will make an already safe procedure even more so.”

Other authors of the study are Liza Fuentes, MPH, of Ibis Reproductive Health, in Oakland, Calif.; Rebecca Kriz, RN, MS, and Ushma Upadhyay, PhD, MPH at UCSF; and Valerie Williams, MD, of Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans.

UCSF is the nation's leading university exclusively focused on health. Now celebrating the 150th anniversary of its founding as a medical college, UCSF is dedicated to transforming health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. It includes top-ranked graduate schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy; a graduate division with world-renowned programs in the biological sciences, a preeminent biomedical research enterprise and top-tier hospitals, UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children's Hospitals.