11.27.135:45 AM ET

The GOP’s Late-Term Abortion Strategy Is Backfiring

As the Supreme Court announces it will hear a challenge to Obama’s contraception mandate, a study on late-term abortion seekers finds the GOP’s anti-abortion laws are backfiring.

Right wing politicians who are push laws to restrict a woman’s access to later-term abortions presumably do so because they don’t want women having abortion after 20 weeks. But new research from medical school-based scholars finds that other policies that conservative Republicans are pushing, including restrictions on access to clinics as well as constrained access to health insurance, actually result in more women seeking later-term abortions. In other words, not only are Republicans hypocrites—but their hypocrisy is backfiring.

Diana Greene Foster and Katrina Kimport are professors in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences in the School of Medicine at the University of California in San Francisco. Between 2008 and 2010, Foster and Kimport studied the cases of 272 women who had received an abortion at or after 20 weeks of gestation, as well as of 169 women who received first-trimester abortions. These women were interviewed just one week after their abortions and asked a variety of questions including what led to the delay in their medical care. The results are striking and profoundly important for those who seek to promote—or constrict—the rights of women to access and exercise their own reproductive freedom.

The study found that young, low-income women are disproportionately more likely to seek abortions at or after 20 weeks. That’s partly because of the compounding circumstances young low-income women are more likely to face. Many in the study were either raising children alone, were depressed or using drugs or were experiencing domestic violence or tension. Half of the women having later-term abortions were unemployed, compared with just one-third of women having first-trimester procedures.

But the barriers to accessing abortion services weren’t limited to the conditions of these women’s lives but the context of medical access in their communities. Foster and Kimport found that first-trimester and later-term abortion seekers ranked roughly the same in terms of delays due to “not knowing about the pregnancy” or “trouble deciding about the abortion." But there were four barriers to abortion services that affected late-term abortion seekers twice as much as those who had first-term procedures:

1. Not knowing where to go for an abortion

2. Difficulty getting to the abortion facility

3. Raising money for procedure and related costs

4. Difficulty securing insurance coverage. 

Let’s break each of those down. Right wing legislative attacks on abortion facilities across the country have only made the first two factors worse. Thanks to archaic and absurd restrictions Republicans in Texas have imposed on abortion providers in the state, a woman in El Paso, Texas, will now have to drive 560 miles—over a 16 hour trek—to San Antonio to access her right to have an abortion. The Texas law has also restricted what doctor’s can tell their patients about abortion options. A Catholic hospital in Colorado has tried to illegally tell its doctors that they cannot discuss abortion options with patients, even in situations where the woman’s life is at risk.

At the same time, in the last two years, many states have enacted restrictions on insurance coverage for abortion services. For instance, eight states prohibit insurance policies underwritten in the state to cover abortion services. Eighteen states restrict abortion coverage in public employee insurance plans. Thirty-five states prohibit Medicaid from covering abortions. And 23 states have restricted coverage for abortions within the new health plans to be offered in Obamacare exchanges. Beyond the insurance issue, Republicans cutting food stamps while refusing to raise the minimum wage keeps poor women poor—and further constrains their options.

So, to be clear, right wing conservatives who supposedly don't want women to have later-term abortions are passing legislation in states across our country that have the effect of driving more women, especially poor young women, to have later-term abortions. 

Of course, those on the right would argue these women have options—they could have the baby and raise it or give it up for adoption. Yet apart from the fact that leaving women with no other options isn’t really giving them “options”… what we know is that women will continue to want to terminate their pregnancies, whether it’s safe and legal or not. As I’ve written before, prior to Roe v. Wade, 50 percent of all maternal deaths resulted from illegal abortions. And in the wake of extreme restrictions to abortion access in Texas, illegal and dangerous abortions are on the rise.

The legislative attacks on abortions clearly aren't about restricting the number of abortions women are having—the evidence is now clear that women are just being driven into later-term abortions because of a lack of access created by these extremist laws. No, the effect of right wing restrictions on abortion is purely to limit the ability of young, poor women to control their own bodies—and perversely drive them toward the very same later-term options that proponents of these restrictions claim they despise. If right-wing conservatives don’t want women having later-term abortions, they should stop pushing policies that constrain the options that young poor women have earlier in their pregnancies.