Study: Utah’s Forced 72-Hour Waiting Period Dissuades Few, Raises Abortion Care Costs

One survey respondent was pushed beyond the abortion care facility’s gestational limit because of the GOP-backed 72-hour waiting period.

New research shows that Utah's 72-hour forced waiting period doesn't dissuade the vast majority of those seeking abortion care, it just makes the procedure more difficult and expensive to obtain. Shutterstock

New research shows that Utah’s 72-hour forced waiting period doesn’t dissuade the vast majority of those seeking abortion care, it just makes the procedure more difficult and expensive to obtain.

The March study, published in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, reports that 86 percent of the pregnant people surveyed ended their pregnancies, with most reporting average waits of eight days between the initial visit and the procedure. Making two visits increased the cost of abortion care by about 10 percent.

Utah requires an in-person counseling visit at least 72 hours before abortion services, necessitating two separate visits. The state was the nation’s first to enact a 72-hour waiting period in 2012. GOP-majority legislatures in South Dakota, Missouri, Oklahoma, and North Carolina have also mandated 72-hour delays. Holidays and weekends don’t count in South Dakota’s 72-hour waiting period.

In 2013 and 2014, members of the research group Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, surveyed 500 pregnant people who were seeking abortion care at four Utah abortion providers.

Eight percent of the 309 respondents who completed follow-up surveys reported they were no longer seeking abortion care, but most “had been conflicted at the information visit.” Three percent had miscarried or found out that they weren’t pregnant, and two percent said they were still seeking abortion care. One respondent, a 26-year-old who had given birth once before, was pushed beyond the facility’s gestational limit because of the GOP-backed 72-hour waiting period.

Those surveyed spoke frankly about the emotional toll of the state-mandated 72-hour delay, expressing “frustration at being powerless to implement their decision.” Researchers noted that few of those surveyed seemed conflicted about having an abortion, suggesting the “72-hour waiting requirement seems to have been unnecessary.”

A 22-year-old told researchers, “I had to wait like a week and a half. That was killing me. I’m a person that wants to get everything over and done with once I’ve made a decision, so that was hard. I wanted it over and done with to move on with my life.”

An 18-year-old expressed similar frustration: “Knowing that I had to wait after deciding what I wanted to do and not having control over my own life and my body made me mad.”

Karrie Galloway, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, told Rewire that the health-care provider has tried to soften the impact of the forced delay on pregnant people by offering so-called informed consent sessions at eight facilities around the state, “so a woman doesn’t have to drive all the way to Salt Lake City from St. George, which is a five-to-six hour drive away in southern Utah.”

Denise Danley, a call center lead with Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, told Rewire that the researchers’ findings mirror what she hears from callers seeking abortion care.

“They have typically already done significant research about the abortion process and have carefully considered their decision,” Danley said in an email. “Making arrangements such as needing to schedule time off at work, finding transportation, and potentially needing to schedule childcare for multiple appointments is quite stressful for women as it adds to the total cost of the abortion.”

Researchers found that those who had an abortion spent a mean of $44 on costs related to the consultation visit, $103 on costs related to the abortion care appointment, and paid a mean of $387 for the abortion procedure. The mean household income of respondents was $22,000.

Danley said she often hears from callers who didn’t realize they were pregnant right away because they were taking birth control to prevent an unintended pregnancy.

“There is not much ambiguity with these women, they were responsibly taking active steps to prevent pregnancy and birth control failure, and a waiting period does not change their mind about their readiness to parent,” Danley said.

Utah had a 24-hour waiting period prior to 2012. But lawmakers in the state’s Republican-held legislature argued that a longer delay was needed to allow a “woman who’s facing that decision to fully weigh her options and the implications of that decision,” as a spokeswoman for Gov. Gary Herbert told Reuters.

“When a woman decides to end a pregnancy, she has made a carefully considered decision—a decision in which politicians have no business to interfere,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, noted in a statement following the study’s release. “This study found that too often a woman in need of an abortion in Utah must scramble to find more money for the procedure, make additional travel and childcare arrangements, and then wait for days—in most cases, more than a week—to end a pregnancy. This is unacceptable, and why we fight bills like these whenever they are introduced.”