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Abortion patients in Texas now travel more than 20 times farther to receive care amid coronavirus ban, study says

The average patient seeking an abortion in Texas must now travel more than 20 times farther than usual because of the state's temporary ban on the procedure, according to a new study from the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research organization. For some, it puts the procedure out of reach entirely.

Abortion services across Texas have been suspended since last Monday, when the Attorney General declared that the procedure must be temporarily halted as part of the state's ban on "non-essential" and "elective" medical procedures amid the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, hundreds of patients have had their appointments canceled, leading some to travel to nearby states for the procedure despite stay-at-home orders. 

Though abortion services are already limited in Texas and patients ordinarily face long travel times to receive care — the state is home to 21 clinics for its 6 million women of reproductive age — the temporary ban has made the situation more difficult, increasing travel distances from an average of 12 miles to 243 miles, a 1,925% increase, according to Guttmacher.

"The greater the increase in travel distance, the greater the hardship it causes, and the more likely it becomes that some individuals will not be able to obtain the care they need," said Rachel Jones, Guttmacher's principal research scientist and one of the authors of the study, in a statement shared with CBS News on Thursday ahead of the report's release. 

"Forcing people to overcome these challenges in the middle of a global pandemic places unconscionable burdens on them, and the consequences fall hardest on people who are already struggling to make ends meet and those who are marginalized from the health care system."

In what officials say is an effort to preserve personal protective equipment for medical professionals, states across the Midwest and South have included abortion services in directives to suspend "non-essential" medical procedures. But abortion rights groups, as well as major medical professional organizations, say that abortion is essential healthcare, and by nature of pregnancy, time-sensitive.

In Guttmacher's report, the research group found that in every state that has limited abortion access amid the coronavirus outbreak, patients have faced increased travel times to receive the procedure, ranging from a 58% increase in distance in Kentucky to nearly 2,000% in Texas. For some, the increase in travel time and the costs associated with travel put the procedure out of reach. Guttmacher warned that those impacted the most by states' temporary bans on abortion will likely be low-income women and single mothers who won't be able to afford the time off work or travel costs.

"Under ordinary circumstances, the burdens of extended travel—including taking time away from work, lost wages, finding childcare, securing lodging, and arranging transportation — can be incredibly difficult for people seeking abortion care," said Jones. "While we face the COVID-19 pandemic, all of these conditions are amplified as many individuals are dealing with lost jobs, concerns about exposure and, in some cases, various travel restrictions."

Texas's suspension of abortion services is currently at the center of a high-profile lawsuit that will likely dictate whether other states will be allowed to continue their bans on the procedure. On Tuesday, a three-judge panel reversed a lower court's decision, allowing the ban to be reinstated until further review by the court. Until then, abortion services are not available in the state.

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