Mandatory Waiting Period Dissuaded Few Women from Abortions, Study Finds

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Most women seeking an abortion were not deterred by a Utah law requiring a 72-hour waiting period before having the procedure, according to a recent study by the University of California, San Francisco.

The 2012 law requires a 72-hour waiting period and at least two medical visits before an abortion. It was the first such law in the nation, and researchers found that it added financial costs and increased logistical hassles and anxiety for the women.

Most women were certain in their decision to have an abortion, so the law was “unnecessary,” researchers said. It would be more appropriate to offer individual counseling for the women who were conflicted about the decision, they said.

“The policy just created hardship for the women, most of whom had already made decision to have an abortion,” said lead author Sarah Roberts, assistant professor at UCSF and the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health. “I’m a researcher, and I believe policy should be based available evidence. I hope policymakers considering waiting periods in their states will pay attention to these findings.”

Four other states, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and North Carolina, enacted 72-hour requirements. Twenty-seven states have shorter waiting periods and 13 states require two visits before having an abortion, the study noted.

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At four family planning facilities in Utah in 2013-2014, the researchers recruited 500 women who, as required, attended the information visit before seeking an abortion. The women completed initial surveys on an iPad.

Of the 309 women who also completed a follow-up survey by phone three weeks later, 86 percent went through with having an abortion, 8 percent were no longer seeking an abortion, 3 percent miscarried or discovered they had not been pregnant, and 2 percent were still seeking an abortion. One woman was undecided, and the waiting period pushed another woman beyond her abortion provider’s gestational limit so the pregnancy continued, according to the study published in the March 24 issue of Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.

Utah state Rep. Steve Eliason, who sponsored the 72-hour waiting period bill, said the study’s findings did not make him question the need for the law.

“Nobody ever thought that everybody would change their mind,” Eliason said. “What about the some women who did? Even if it’s effective for a handful of people, what’s the rush?”

He questioned the validity of the study for reasons including the unidentified source of funding. Roberts said funding came from an anonymous foundation that complied with UCSF’s grant policies and that the organization was not involved at all in conducting, reviewing, writing or publishing the study.

Eliason said he disagreed with the study’s conclusion.

“The study’s ultimate conclusion is that it is unnecessary,” Eliason said. “They can have that opinion. The objective was why don’t we give women in a difficult position, sufficient time they can use to consider the facts. We will have multiple extra kindergarten classes as a result.”

Most of the women who changed their minds about having an abortion reported being conflicted at the initial information visit. Only 2 percent of those women said they were not conflicted at the information visit but later decided against having an abortion, the study said.

Even though the waiting period was 72 hours, the women had to wait much longer to have the procedure -- about eight days after their initial information visit, the study said. The delay was caused mostly by appointment availability and personal logistics.

The increased wait time also cost women privacy. Six percent of the women said they had to disclose that they were seeking an abortion to additional people in their lives because of the extra time and logistics involved in getting the procedure, the study said.

Women had to pay 10 percent more for an abortion because of the additional wait and having to make two visits, the study said.

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“Financially, it was just hard,” a 30-year-old Idaho woman who went to Utah for the procedure wrote in the survey. “I have three children, so I couldn’t stay there during the waiting period," she said. “I had to make the trip, come back home and do the regular stuff, and then plan another trip.”

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