Who can get an abortion in PA? People with time and money

Reproductive rights advocate holding an "Abortion is a human right" sign outside the US Supreme Court on Mar. 26, 2024. (Photo: Sean Kitchen)

By Ashley Adams

April 2, 2024

Abortion is legal up to 24 weeks in Pennsylvania—but first, there’s an obstacle course. 

More than 34,000 abortions were performed in Pennsylvania in 2022, according to a report from the state’s Department of Health.

In fact, 5% more abortions were reported in the state in 2022—the same year Roe v. Wade was overturned—over the previous year. While abortion may still be legal in the commonwealth, the cost and process to get one makes it difficult for many to access.

“While it isn’t banned here, it is certainly inaccessible to a lot of people,” said Signe Espinoza, executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates. “And there is an obstacle course that people have to go through to get one.”

How much do they cost?

The cost of an abortion in Pennsylvania ranges from $400 to $1,000, depending on the number of weeks since the woman’s* last period and whether she has a medication abortion or a medical procedure, Espinoza said.

Over half the abortions reported in 2022 were medication abortions (55%). Forty percent of the abortions were performed via suction curettage (a suction abortion used in the first 12 to 13 weeks of pregnancy). Five percent of abortions were dilation and evacuation procedures (a type of in-clinic abortion that can be done in the second trimester of pregnancy).

And, according to Espinoza, abortion is not covered by medical insurance in Pennsylvania. In fact, in only very limited circumstances, such as rape or incest, is the procedure covered by Medicaid.

Then you have to factor in the cost of travel, Espinoza said.

In 2022, close to 10% of abortions in Pennsylvania were performed on women from states where abortion is either banned or incredibly restrictive (such as only being allowed up to six weeks of pregnancy). 

Plus, Espinoza pointed out, Pennsylvania only has 18 free-standing abortion providers in the state—meaning most of the 91% of resident women who received an abortion last year probably had to travel to obtain the procedure.

“We are definitely a state that I would say is a restrictive state with abortion,” Espinoza said.

The process

The cost isn’t the only thing that might prohibit someone from accessing abortion care when they need it. Espinoza said women must navigate through a number of challenges that take precious time and resources prior to receiving an abortion.

To start with, a woman seeking abortion care must have an introductory appointment at a health clinic at least 24 hours before she’s able to have abortion services. There, she must undergo counseling. This policy means women in situations where they can’t leave for long—like having little kids at home, work without leave, an overbearing domestic relationship, or lack of funds for travel—often lose the chance to end a pregnancy early or at all. 

“Here’s a woman who has made a decision that was best for her and her family, and after walking through the doors of the clinic, she has to wait another 24 hours,” Espinoza said. “We are not trusting people to make decisions for themselves. And that’s assuming that there is an appointment immediately available.”

Despite being the fifth-most populous state in the US, Pennsylvania has just18 free-standing clinics that can provide abortions. That’s because of TRAP laws—restrictions placed on abortion providers that are designed to close them down or prevent new ones from opening. “Targeted Restrictions on Abortion Providers” include things like inch-by-inch dimensions for janitors’ closets and medically unnecessary requirements on doctors. 

“These requirements are unnecessary and difficult to maintain,” Espinoza said. 

Pennsylvania is also a “doctor-only” state, meaning only a doctor can perform an abortion—not another trained and capable health care provider. 

“Cross the bridge into New Jersey and a midwife can give an abortion,” Espinoza said. “Nurse practitioners are already trained to provide abortion care. It’s the same training as miscarriage management.”

In 2022, 2% of abortions in Pennsylvania were performed on girls younger than 18. The number isn’t low because teens don’t need abortions—the most recent teen birth rate is 11.5 per thousand. The number is low because here in Pennsylvania, a teen needs  parental consent to have an abortion. While that may sound reasonable, consider the teens who cannot go to their parents about needing an abortion due to religious beliefs. Consider the teens who need abortions due to rape or incest. Those who are able to try can appear before a judge for a judicial bypass—but it’s rare.

“That is a huge barrier for young folks,” Espinoza said. “Imagine being in that position, and knowing you can’t turn to your parents. What do they do? Who do they turn to? Where do they go?”

Will things change?

With Democratic governor Josh Shapiro in power until 2027, abortion care will likely remain legal for the next three years.

Until recently, the commonwealth’s legislature was fully controlled by Republicans. Under that status quo, abortion-restricting legislation came up frequently. Perhaps most significantly, the body began moving an amendment in 2022 that would enshrine language in the state constitution that explicitly says abortion is not a protected right. But the measure didn’t pass—and Democrats now have control in the state House.

Since taking over the majority, Democrats have gotten more active on the issue of abortion. For example, in his first budget, Shapiro eliminated a long-standing contract that provided taxpayer funds to an anti-abortion counseling program.

And in December, Reps. Liz Hanbidge (D-Montgomery) and Danielle Friel Otten (D-Chester) introduced House Bill 1888, a proposed amendment that would formally enshrine the right to abortion in the Pennsylvania Constitution. 

In 2024, a group of state House members advanced a bill proposal seeking to loosen facility requirements for abortion providers, arguing the rules are unnecessarily onerous.

Espinoza said now, more than ever, is the time for legislators to be more proactive when it comes to protecting reproductive freedoms.

“It’s not enough anymore to vote against the bans or veto them; now is the time to be proactive and bold in defense and protection of reproductive health care,” Espinoza said.

*Editor’s Note: While we recognize that not all reproductive health care is limited to people who identify as women, we’re using the term “woman” and she/her pronouns for readability in this story. As firm believers in representation for all people, we invite anyone with a female-assigned reproductive system who does not identify as a woman to reach out to share their story.

Author

  • Ashley Adams

    In her 16 years in the communications industry, Ashley Adams has worn many hats, including news reporter, public relations writer, marketing specialist, copy editor and technical writer. Ashley grew up in Berks County and has since returned to her roots to raise her three children.

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