Association of Travel Distance to Nearest Abortion Facility With Rates of Abortion

JAMA Netw Open. 2021 Jul 1;4(7):e2115530. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.15530.


IMPORTANCE: Travel distance to abortion services varies widely in the US. Some evidence shows travel distance affects use of abortion care, but there is no national analysis of how abortion rate changes with travel distance.

OBJECTIVE: To examine the association between travel distance to the nearest abortion care facility and the abortion rate and to model the effect of reduced travel distance.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: This cross-sectional geographic analysis used 2015 data on abortions by county of residence from 1948 counties in 27 states. Abortion rates were modeled using a spatial Poisson model adjusted for age, race/ethnicity, marital status, educational attainment, household poverty, nativity, and state abortion policies. Abortion rates for 3107 counties in the 48 contiguous states that were home to 62.5 million female residents of reproductive age (15-44 years) and changes under travel distance scenarios, including integration into primary care (<30 miles) and availability of telemedicine care (<5 miles), were estimated. Data were collected from April 2018 to October 2019 and analyzed from December 2019 to July 2020.

EXPOSURES: Median travel distance by car to the nearest abortion facility.

MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: US county abortion rate per 1000 female residents of reproductive age.

RESULTS: Among the 1948 counties included in the analysis, greater travel distances were associated with lower abortion rates in a dose-response manner. Compared with a median travel distance of less than 5 miles (median rate, 21.1 [range, 1.2-63.6] per 1000 female residents of reproductive age), distances of 5 to 15 miles (median rate, 12.2 [range, 0.5-23.4] per 1000 female residents of reproductive age; adjusted coefficient, -0.05 [95% CI, -0.07 to -0.03]) and 120 miles or more (median rate, 3.9 [range, 0-12.9] per 1000 female residents of reproductive age; coefficient, -0.73 [95% CI, -0.80 to -0.65]) were associated with lower rates. In a model of 3107 counties with 62.5 million female residents of reproductive age, 696 760 abortions were estimated (mean rate, 11.1 [range, 1.0-45.5] per 1000 female residents of reproductive age). If abortion were integrated into primary care, an additional 18 190 abortions (mean rate, 11.4 [range, 1.1-45.5] per 1000 female residents of reproductive age) were estimated. If telemedicine were widely available, an additional 70 920 abortions were estimated (mean rate, 12.3 [range, 1.4-45.5] per 1000 female residents of reproductive age).

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: These findings suggest that greater travel distances to abortion services are associated with lower abortion rates. The results indicate which geographic areas have insufficient access to abortion care. Modeling suggests that integrating abortion into primary care or making medication abortion care available by telemedicine may decrease unmet need.

PMID:34228128 | DOI:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.15530