The challenges of obtaining an abortion are amplified for individuals residing in states with restrictive laws, especially for those who are undocumented.

This year, the abortion bans implemented in Florida and Arizona, along with the previous near-total prohibition in Texas, pose a significant threat to the accessibility of the procedure for undocumented individuals residing in these states. As of 2021, Texas has prohibited abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, and following the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June 2022, the procedure was almost entirely banned. Similarly, Florida’s ban, which went into effect on May 1, outlaws abortions before many individuals even realize they are pregnant.

In Arizona, the situation is more complex. In April, the state’s supreme court upheld a ban on abortion that dates back to 1864. However, the enforcement of this ruling has been temporarily halted as it is being challenged in the Supreme Court. Additionally, the legislature has recently repealed the law. However, the repeal will only take effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns for the year, which means that the ban may still be in place until late September. Under this ban, abortion is prohibited in Arizona after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

People in these three states have limited options when seeking abortions after the legal cutoffs. They can either travel to a state where the procedure is legal, try to obtain abortion pills through out-of-state services (which is medically safe but legally risky), or seek assistance from community-based networks. However, undocumented individuals face even greater challenges in pursuing these avenues. Due to restrictions on government identification, most of them are unable to obtain driver’s licenses, making it much harder for them to travel to another state for care.

Travel presents legal and immigration risks for undocumented individuals as well. Recently, Florida and Texas enacted laws that explicitly prohibit the transport of undocumented individuals into their states. Although the Texas law, currently under court injunction, grants police the authority to apprehend those suspected of illegal entry into the state, similar legislation in Arizona is also pending. However, Arizona’s bill is expected to be vetoed by the state’s Democratic governor.

Ordering abortion pills online as an alternative to travel could be considered a violation of laws in all three states that prohibit the provision of abortion through telemedicine.

Even when public rhetoric becomes heated, it can create a culture of fear that deters individuals from seeking necessary healthcare, including abortions. Samantha Artiga, director of racial equity and health policy at KFF, a nonpartisan health policy research organization, explains that immigrants already face significant barriers when it comes to accessing healthcare, such as higher uninsured rates and limited connection to the healthcare system. These challenges are further compounded by fears related to immigration. Accessing services becomes even more challenging when additional steps are required, such as traveling out-of-state or navigating the use of telehealth services.

The number of undocumented people seeking abortions and those who have been denied care due to state bans remains unknown. Texas and Florida have a significant undocumented population, with only California having a larger one. Pew Research Center’s analysis reveals that approximately 5 percent of women aged 15 to 44 in Texas and Florida, which are considered reproductive age, are undocumented. In Arizona, this percentage is around 4 percent.

The majority of undocumented individuals in those three states are Latinx, and it is worth noting that Latinx Americans, including citizens and permanent residents, are disproportionately affected by abortion bans. According to the Migration Policy Institute, about half of them report having limited proficiency in English, making it incredibly challenging to navigate travel across state lines or understand different states’ abortion laws. This difficulty arises because information regarding these laws is often only available in English.

According to Dr. Chelsea Daniels, an ob-gyn who provides care for undocumented patients at various Planned Parenthood affiliates in Florida, accessing local clinics without driver’s licenses is already a challenge for undocumented individuals. However, if they are unable to speak English, it will become even more difficult for them to travel across state lines.

Daniels emphasized the significant importance of possessing a driver’s license or passport, highlighting the privileges that come with these documents.

Ray Serrano, the director of research and policy at the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), expresses concern about the intersection of abortion and immigration laws. According to Serrano, this combination has created an overwhelming sense of fear among individuals, discouraging them from accessing the necessary healthcare services.

At Jacksonville’s Woman’s Choice clinic, even prior to the implementation of the state’s six-week abortion ban, staff members were already compelled to refer a small number of undocumented patients to out-of-state facilities for treatment. These were individuals who were unable to undergo an abortion before the previously enforced 15-week deadline that was in effect until May 1. With the six-week ban now in full force and more Floridians seeking pregnancy-related procedures outside of the state, it is expected that the number of referrals will increase.

Undocumented patients have been dependent on a few organizations for assistance with their travel needs. Some groups provide volunteer drivers, while there is another organization called Elevated Access that collaborates with non-commercial pilots who transport individuals to different states. However, arranging such travel arrangements is challenging and time-consuming, which further delays the already pregnant patients.

According to Gabby Long, the hotline director at A Woman’s Choice, implementing certain measures could potentially cause a delay in access for individuals. She hesitates to say that it would completely restrict their access, but it would certainly create additional obstacles.

According to Serra Sippel, the interim executive director of the Brigid Alliance, navigating the logistics of this type of travel can be quite complex. The Brigid Alliance is an organization that offers practical assistance to individuals who require travel for abortions, especially those who are in the later stages of pregnancy, beyond 15 weeks.

The organization offers additional funding for a companion to drive on behalf of individuals who are unable to legally operate a vehicle. Alternatively, they have also provided bus tickets, ensuring that the selected route does not pass through immigration checkpoints. For instance, a bus journey from Miami to Virginia, the nearest state where abortion is largely legal and does not mandate a multi-day waiting period, typically takes around 23 hours, which is approximately 8 hours longer than driving by car.

The implementation of new bans, especially in Florida where a significant number of abortions took place last year, will put added pressure on these support groups. This will make it more challenging for them to effectively organize and facilitate travel arrangements at such a precise level.

Usha Ranji, associate director for women’s health policy at KFF, acknowledges that the current efforts to assist people are being carried out on an individual basis. However, she raises concerns about the scalability and sustainability of these efforts, noting that they are not able to reach everyone in need.

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MBS Staff
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