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Ohio State Research Finds Abortion Restrictions Hit Rural Areas Harder

This Feb, 25, 2020 file photo show the Preterm building, the busiest abortion clinic in Ohio, in Cleveland. Officials in Texas and Ohio are taking steps aimed at banning most abortions during this phase of the coronavirus outbreak.
Tony Dejak
Associated Press
This Feb, 25, 2020 file photo show the Preterm building, the busiest abortion clinic in Ohio, in Cleveland.

study recently published by researchers at The Ohio State University found significant disparities emerging in Ohio's abortion rates over the last decade.

From 2010-2018, the Statehouse passed more than a dozen abortion regulations. Dr. Alison Norris, a professor of epidemiology and co-author of the study, says that appears to have had an impact on who obtained the procedure in Ohio.

In this eight-year time period, abortion rates declined across the country and in the state. But Norris says it didn’t decline evenly across Ohio.

“When we looked county-by-county in Ohio, we found that people living in urban counties had a decline that looked like the rest of the country," Norris says. "But people living in rural counties had a decline that was much greater, meaning that people in rural counties were using abortion much less."

That disparity has always existed, Norris says, but increased significantly in the last 10 years.

“The difference between rural and urban grew," she says. "So rural people were accessing abortion less and less and less over the time, the decade our study examined."

She says scientists chalk the nationwide decrease in the procedure to a decline of unwanted pregnancies, catalyzed by more accessible and reliable birth control. Norris doesn't believe that the sharper decrease in Ohio's rural areas is tied to lessened demand, though.

"We don't really have any reason to think that people living in rural counties would have fewer unintended pregnancies than living in urban areas, we don't have any reason to believe that their demand would change differently than people living in urban areas," she says.

Clinics that offer surgical abortions in the state dropped by almost half, from 15 to eight, in the decade Norris studied. That reduced access for rural Ohioans.

“We see that this geographic inequity in abortion access increases as the number of restrictions and burdens increases and at the same time that the number of facilities decreases,” she says.

The study was published last month in the American Journal of Public Health. 

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.