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Report points to rise in health care inequities in abortion-restricted states

Abortion-rights rally in Rapid City
Seth Tupper
Demonstrators at an abortion-rights rally on Sunday, July 10, 2022, in Rapid City.

It’s been over a year since the Dobbs V. Jackson Supreme Court case overturned nationwide abortion protections. A new report suggests abortion bans like the one implemented in South Dakota are contributing to inequities in the health care system.

The Washington Post reports maternal mortality rates in abortion-restricted states are three times higher than in states with no barriers to the procedure, citing a studyby the Gender Equity Policy Institute.

Sarah Traxler is chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood North Central States. She said banning abortion sends a message to providers.

"An abortion ban in a certain state tells an OB/GYN they are unable to provide a full spectrum of sexual and reproductive health care," Traxler said. "When you’re telling a physician that - because of a law that is unjust - they’re unable to practice the full spectrum, you’re telling them it’s not a safe place for them to practice medicine.”

In South Dakota half of all counties are already without an OB/GYN provider, forcing families with high-risk pregnancies on long drives for specialty care. Traxler said these gaps will only grow in a post-Roe world.

“That’s really going to impact where people chose to practice, and we’re going to see that play out with OB/GYNs across the country," Traxler said. "We already have big areas of the country that are OB/GYN deserts and that’s just going to increase evermore.”

State law says abortion is illegal in South Dakota except to save the life of the mother. Those who can afford to travel for specialty care or abortion-friendly states can skirt around the books, but things aren’t so simple for those with less. Traxler said they face the most consequences of an abortion ban.

“There are people who will always have the means to travel to a provider to access the care they need, but that’s definitely not true for our most marginalized communities," Traxler said. "So that’s impacting people who are already suffering from some pretty significant health disparities.”

A survey of medical students in the Obstetrics and Gynecology Journal found 77 percent of respondents across all medical specialties consider access to abortion care when applying to residency programs. Over 58 percent said they’re “unlikely” to apply to a program in a state with abortion restrictions.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture