By Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK, Sept 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Access to an abortion in the United States depends largely upon where a woman lives, research showed on Wednesday, as a rash of clinics closed in areas with the most stringent restrictions.
Nine out of 10 counties nationwide did not have a clinic providing abortion services in 2017, said the study by the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research and policy organization.
The closing of clinics, combined with tougher restrictions, puts the medical procedure out of reach of many pregnant women, particularly those without the means to travel long distances, said the researchers looking at abortion data from 2011 to 2017.
While the number of clinics dropped slightly nationwide to about 800, those closing their doors were concentrated in the South and Midwest where most abortion restrictions have been enacted.
Seeking to prosecute doctors, recognize a fetus as a person or lengthen waiting periods for abortions, in recent years, 32 of the 50 states have enacted nearly 400 new restrictions.
At the same time states in the South lost 50 clinics - half of those in Texas alone - and the Midwest saw a decline of 33 clinics.
The Northeast, meanwhile, added 59 clinics, the research showed.
"There's a growing divide between who is able to access abortion and who is not, based on where they live," said Rachel Jones, Guttmacher's principal research scientist.
With fewer clinics, people will have to travel further at higher expense, she said.
"We are talking about who is able to jump through those hoops, who can afford to take time off work, who can afford transportation and hotels, who can find and afford child care," she said.
"It's undoubtedly putting abortion out of reach for some people."
As of 2017, at least five states, all in the South and Midwest, had only one clinic providing abortion care.
Nationwide, the abortion rate in 2017 reached its lowest level since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, the research said.
The rate - the number per 1,000 women of reproductive age - was about 14 percent from 17 percent in 2011.
The drop was likely linked to a drop in pregnancies, since there were fewer births over the same time period, it said.
Nearly every state saw a decline in abortion rates regardless of their abortion laws, and more than half of the decline occurred in states that did not adopt new restrictions.
Just this year, nine states passed strict laws restricting abortion access, seen as part of a multistate effort to have the Supreme Court reconsider its 1973 ruling.
The bans have been championed by conservatives, many of them religious, who see abortion as murder.
"These are actually policies being rolled out by design in coordination across many states and the federal administration," said Dr. Herminia Palacio, Guttmacher chief executive.
"The Trump administration and their allies are launching a full-on attack against sexual and reproductive health and rights."
The closing of clinics illustrates how the American public is turning against abortion, said Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, which opposes abortion.
"You're taking the lives of innocent human beings," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "It speaks to the decency of America that our hearts have been turned against abortion." (Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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