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Access Atlas: Mapping Abortion Restrictions in the Time of COVID

As you are all aware, we are living amidst a global pandemic. While we have honed much of our focus on COVID-19, some members of the political sphere have found this pandemic to be the perfect opportunity to quietly restrict access to reproductive healthcare – namely, abortion. This is an ideal situation for those looking to restrict access because they can label abortion services as non-essential, thus preventing people from accessing care on the grounds that doing so will prevent the spread of COVID-19.

COVID-19 will not stop the need for abortion services, and those seeking them now face additional barriers to care. Three recent Dartmouth graduates – Charlotte Evans, Tara Gallagher, and Io Jones – researched COVID-19-related restrictions on abortion in each US state to create a resource, called Access Atlas, for both those seeking services and those simply looking to understand how states are restricting access to care.

They created a set of three interactive maps to explain state-specific abortion restrictions. One map highlights how abortion services are defined in COVID-19 executive orders, detailing whether abortion services are defined as essential or non-essential, if that determination is left to the provider, or if they are undefined. The next highlights whether or not abortion services are available or if they are available but threatened, partially banned or extremely restricted, or banned completely.

Researchers created the third map by isolating the four most restrictive laws affecting abortion access to create a composite COVID-19 abortion restriction score for each state. These laws include: the two trip requirement for abortion, a telemedicine ban on abortion, restrictions limiting the ability of providers to delegate tasks, and the requirement for medicine abortions to be administered in the presence of a physician. The composite score is on a scale between 0 and 9, with scores closer to 9 indicating more restriction with regard to abortion access and scores closer to 0 indicating less restriction.

According to this map, Maryland has a score of 0.5/9. There is no language to describe abortion restrictions in the state’s COVID-19 executive order, but abortion is both available and accessible, and the only restriction contributing to the state’s composite score is that medicine abortions must be performed by a licensed physician. Virginia was given a higher score of 5/9 because, although abortion is available and described as essential in the state’s COVID-19 executive orders, the state has a two-trip restriction for receiving abortion care, mandated counseling (although it can be done by any health professional), and laws mandating medicine abortions to be performed by a licensed physician. Washington D.C. was given a composite score of 0/9, along with California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.

Access Atlas is a valuable resource for those seeking to understand how abortion services have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and for those seeking abortion care during it. The COVID-19 restriction score is essential in showing how COVID-19 restrictions interact with current laws to further limit abortion access, but since it is a composite based on pre-pandemic laws, it also provides insight into states’ general priorities regarding reproductive health. For those states with priorities that lean towards restricting abortion, this pandemic has provided the opportunity to easily create those restrictions. It is feasible that, in a sense, this pandemic will serve as a gateway for them to install longer-lasting restrictions on abortion services.

Access Atlas is also useful for explaining state abortion laws and how the influence of states’ priorities regarding abortion access interact with them to further restrict abortion access. Those involved with the project continue to update Access Atlas daily as more information becomes available. Additionally, they intend to explore abortion access across different communities within states and how individual abortion clinics are being affected by the restriction.

With regard to Access Atlas’ accessibility, the researchers intend to communicate with abortion access funds to determine the best methods for making their information available to different communities. While they work to ensure accessibility, you can help by sharing Access Atlas widely, so that those within your networks can have a better understanding of what abortion access looks like now.

Website: access-atlas.org

Instagram: @access.atlas

Twitter: @access_atlas

Facebook: Access Atlas

Screenshot of the map of COVID-19 Restriction Scores, provided by access-atlas.org

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