According to Guttmacher, 87 percent of counties in the United States have no abortion providers. But for the other 13 percent, many are facing a serious lack of available providers, too. Many exurban and more rural areas are too far away from the larger cities to have a clinic that has a regular provider, and often clinics share providers, with one doctor traveling to multiple sites, or sometimes even multiple states, a few times a month in order to provide services to women seeking to terminate a pregnancy.
How critical has the shortage of abortion providers become? As Missouri shows us, the loss of one provider could mean the suspension of abortion services all together.
The Columbia, Missouri Planned Parenthood clinic has announced that they will no longer be able to provide abortions to the women in the area, due to the military deployment of their practitioner, who previously came to the clinic two to three times a month. Without a provider, the clinic will now have to refer women to other clinics further away, increasing the expense associated with an abortion as well as how early the abortion can be performed.
As each provider retires, is called away from his or her area, or for some other reason stops performing abortions, without newer providers to step in, the wait time for an abortion grows while schedules fill even faster, in some cases causing women to miss their ability to have a legal, early abortion all together. And as anti-choice activists continue to target doctors, the profession becomes a much more volatile and even dangerous career choice, leaving many to choose not to go into it.
This is where laws like bans on telemed abortions, where women can speak to doctors via internet in order to obtain medicated abortions even in different cities, or Arizona’s ban on allowing abortions to be provided by anyone besides a fully licensed doctor, become so onerous. With providers disappearing, even simply abortion procedures like using RU 486 or an early first trimester D&C are becoming that much harder to obtain.
Columbia’s situation is unfortunate, but highly unlikely to be that last. Too many states have just a handful of providers, and without them, abortion becomes legal in name only, and completely unobtainable.
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