HEALTH

26 states plan to ban abortion in some form if the Supreme Court OKs Mississippi's ban. Here's who is most at risk.

While wealthier pregnant people will continue to have access to abortion regardless of what the Supreme Court decides in the spring, those who are low-income and nonwhite are expected to be most affected.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week on the constitutionality of Mississippi’s ban on abortions past 15 weeks in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case. Twenty-six states are poised to ban abortion in some form if the Supreme Court OKs the ban or decides to overturn Roe v. Wade altogether, dealing a blow to 50 years of legal precedent guaranteeing the right to an abortion, according to Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research and policy organization.

In 2016, about two-thirds of abortions were performed at or before the eighth week of gestations and almost 12% occurred after 13 weeks, the institute says.

Another Guttmacher study found that if Roe were to be overturned or Mississippi's ban upheld, 20 other states are certain to pursue similar restrictions. That would force a Mississippi resident seeking an abortion to drive an average of 380 miles one way to reach a clinic  – up from about 78 miles today.

That will put abortion out of reach for low-income people, the majority of whom are people of color, advocates say.

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“White people and people with means can navigate these restrictions more easily because they have financial resources,” said Elizabeth Nash, interim associate director of state issues at Guttmacher. “Those who are most burdened are those who face systemic oppression, Black and brown people, LGBTQ individuals, low-income people and young people.”

Women of color make up a significant portion of the population in states throughout the South, where abortion bans are most likely along with the Midwest and Plains.

In an amicus brief, the National Women’s Law Center examined racial wage gaps among women in Mississippi, finding gaps widest for Black, Latina, Native and Asian women. Women also made up 71.3% of low-wage workers in the state.

Protesters attend the Rally For Abortion Justice on October 02 in Washington, DC.

While it’s difficult to say exactly how many people would be impacted following a ban, estimates show 1 in 10 women of reproductive age live in a state that already has abortion restrictions, said Fatima Goss Graves, an attorney and president of the National Women’s Law Center.

“We also know that women of color and Black women disproportionately live in states that have laws on the books which basically say if Roe were to be overturned, their abortion bans would kick in right away,” she said. She added because women would be forced to seek abortions elsewhere, it could potentially overwhelm health care infrastructures.

In another amicus brief, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics noted research has consistently shown abortion restrictions increase risk of health harms from unprofessionally induced abortions. If the court agrees with Mississippi, the group said it would “put the United States at odds with the health and human rights recommendations of professional societies of obstetricians and gynecologists worldwide as well as major international health bodies.”

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In other briefs, several organizations warned the ban would put pregnant people at risk of physical and mental health harms. Scholars on reproductive justice law argued because of extreme disadvantage, Black women in Mississippi more heavily rely on abortion services. They're more likely to be uninsured, have higher poverty and partner violence rates. Black maternal mortality rates are still high, and in the state, Black women are almost three times more likely to die during pregnancy than white women.

Diana Greene Foster, a demographer and professor at the OBGYN department at University of California, San Francisco’s Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, led the Turnaway Study that found significant harms of being denied an abortion. Those include increased chances of economic hardship and insecurity following birth, staying with a violent partner or raising a child alone, and threats to the financial well-being and development of children who are already in the home.

“Abortion is an issue which disproportionately affects people of color. And especially when we're talking about states like Mississippi. And the scariest thing about that is that people of color already have elevated risks from carrying a pregnancy to term,” she said. “To make it even more difficult for them to access abortion, it means that they're more likely to experience the very serious and yet totally underappreciated risks of pregnancy.”

Reach Nada Hassanein at nhassanein@usatoday.com or on Twitter @nhassanein_.