What will Ohio look like if Issue 1 fails?
COLUMBUS, Ohio — OCTOBER 08: Michelle Black of Columbus (center) listens to Lauren Blauvelt speak during the Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom Bans OFF Columbus rally for Issue 1, October 8, 2023, outside the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original article.)
Next week, Ohio voters will go to the polls to vote to establish a state constitutional right for residents to make reproductive decisions about abortion, contraception, and miscarriage care.
In the wake of the decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to overturn the court’s previous opinion of a federal constitutional right to abortion, state legislatures across the country have moved to ban or severely limit abortion.
Ohio currently borders three states with total bans on abortion: Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Abortion is currently legal in Ohio due to a judicial order to freeze a 2019 law that would ban abortion at around six weeks of pregnancy.
A group of economists led by Middlebury College’s Caitlin Myers have studied the impact bans have and will have on access to abortion in the United States.
Currently, the average drive time to an abortion facility in Ohio is around 36 minutes. This estimate is nearly identical to the 34 minutes researchers at health research firm Altarum estimated Americans typically drive to the doctor’s office.
Because of clinics in Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, and Toledo, people living in those metropolitan areas can generally reach a clinic that provides abortion in under an hour.
Proximity to those clinics as well as clinics in Pittsburgh mean most of the rest of the state is currently within a two hour drive of a clinic that provides abortion. The exception is eastern Lawrence County on the Kentucky and West Virginia borders, where bans in neighboring states and distance from cities in Ohio and Pennsylvania push the drive time over two hours.
The researchers estimate that if Ohio’s abortion ban went into effect, average drive time in Ohio would grow from the current 36 minutes to over two and a half hours.
People living in the Cincinnati, Columbus, and Dayton metropolitan areas and large swaths of the Cleveland Metropolitan Area would have to drive over two hours to reach a clinic that provides abortion. People in Akron, Toledo, Youngstown, and portions of Cleveland would still have access to clinics that provide abortion within an hour in Pittsburgh and southern Michigan.
Portions of southern Ohio would be over four hours from a clinic.
The researchers also estimate the current average distance to a clinic that provides abortion in Ohio is 28 miles but that the ban would increase that distance to 159 miles. A 2020 study by a group of researchers at Texas A&M found increasing the distance to a clinic from under 50 miles to over 50 miles reduces abortion rates by 16 percent, suggesting distance will have an impact on how people access abortion care in Ohio. This would likely lead to an increase in rates of unplanned births and self-managed abortions.
If voters in Ohio pass Issue 1 next week, the right to abortion will be ensured up to the point of fetal viability, which would ensure the right to choose abortion care is limited to women and their doctors. We will find out next week if voters in the state are ready to codify a right the Supreme Court was not able to.
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