Abortion in Ohio, Part 5: Already-Disadvantaged Ohioans Are Poised to Suffer Disproportionately from an Abortion Ban

"The struggles that low-income Ohioans face are only going to get more difficult as access becomes scarcer.”

click to enlarge Abortion advocates gather in Cincinnati in May 2022. - Photo: Mary LeBus
Photo: Mary LeBus
Abortion advocates gather in Cincinnati in May 2022.

This story is part of CityBeat's and Cleveland Scene's feature package about what the June 24 reversal of Roe v. Wade means in Ohio. Read more stories in our abortion series.

In April, the Ohio Policy Evaluation Network (OPEN) found that Ohioans seeking a surgical abortion would have to travel up to 339 miles if the legislature were to institute a statewide ban (medication — or pill-based — abortions also are an option). The driving expenses associated with the additional travel could add as much as $400 to an already costly procedure.

Abortion is sought predominantly by patients of limited means, according to recent research. OPEN says that roughly 75% of people seeking abortions in 2021 were classified either as poor or low-income, or those making up to 200% of the federally designated poverty line. These patients, advocates say, will disproportionately suffer when abortions are made more burdensome and remote.

“Even under existing law, paying for an abortion is a huge impediment,” says Freda Levenson, legal director with the ACLU of Ohio. “It’s not only the cost of travel and childcare to think about, but the lost wages. Low-wage workers aren’t getting paid for time off work.”

According to the Guttmacher Institute, only 16 states — the nearest being New York and Illinois — and the District of Columbia have laws that have enacted few or zero abortion restrictions as of press time. Because some states require a 24-hour waiting period between an initial appointment and an abortion procedure, travel costs for anyone not living near state lines likely would include a hotel stay.

“Remember that many Ohioans, even those working full-time and above minimum wage, still struggle to pay for basic living expenses,” Levenson says. “Forty percent of Americans aren’t able to cover a hypothetical emergency expense of $400, using cash on hand or their savings. The struggles that low-income Ohioans face are only going to get more difficult as access becomes scarcer.”

Travel costs, childcare costs — 60% of those seeking abortions are already parents, according to the Guttmacher Institute — and foregone wages are all on top of the cost of the procedure itself.

Maggie Scotece, interim executive director of statewide abortion fund Women Have Options Ohio (WHO), says that at their earliest and cheapest, first-trimester surgical abortions cost roughly $500-$600 and get more expensive every two weeks of gestation.

“By the third trimester, we’re talking thousands of dollars,” Scotece says. “And most insurance policies don’t cover abortions, so these procedures are paid for out of pocket.”

As of press time, abortion-inducing drugs also are available as alternatives to surgical procedures. However, legal and medical experts predict that Ohio will attempt to restrict those with Roe v. Wade’s fall, despite federal laws that permit mail-order medications.

Scotece says that WHO is often a “fund of last resort” that works with local abortion funds and other providers to ensure that patients have all their financial bases covered before traveling to get an abortion. She describes one instance in which a woman’s car broke down on her way home from a procedure and was forced to spend an extra night in a hotel, pay for her car repair and miss an additional day of work.

“For a single parent like her, one lost day of wages can be life or death,” Scotece says, adding that WHO case navigators helped the woman not only cover the cost of the hotel and car, but also paid the lost wages.

Women Have Options serves anyone traveling to or from Ohio for abortion care. While Ohio has enacted dozens of restrictions in recent years, it still has a few abortion clinics. Six are full-service surgical centers: three in the Cleveland area and one each in Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati. There are three additional clinics that only provide abortion medication in Columbus, Cleveland and Toledo.

Scotece notes that there has been an influx of patients traveling to Ohio from Kentucky for abortion care and says that there are likely to be additional ripple effects of a ban, including rising costs and restrictions associated with miscarriages and infertility. And while disadvantaged Ohioans will suffer the effects of a statewide ban disproportionately, many other people will be affected.

“I think a lot of people are unaware of just how common abortion is,” Scotece says. “One in four women have abortions, and so when people think it doesn’t impact them or their families, it absolutely does. The higher and higher costs of abortion care will become really untenable.”

With Roe now reversed, CityBeat is exploring what comes next for Ohioans seeking abortion resources and reproductive care. Click below to read our in-depth stories about each topic.
Editor’s note: Some of the people and organizations quoted in this feature frame their abortion language around “women,” meaning a sex assigned at birth. But transgender men, intersex individuals, non-binary individuals and agender individuals also receive abortion care. We will continue to explore abortion issues that affect all individuals in future stories.

This feature is a collaborative effort by reporters and editors at CityBeat in Cincinnati and Cleveland Scene in Cleveland, including Sam Allard, Allison Babka, Madeline Fening, Vince Grzegorek, Gennifer Harding-Gosnell, Maggy McDonel, Ashley Moor and Maija Zummo.

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