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State abortion bans could affect over half of female veterans and women with disabilities, analysis finds

Bans in 26 states could affect up to 2.8 million women with disabilities and 389,600 female veterans, the National Partnership for Women and Families said.
Protesters embrace at a candlelit vigil in front of the Supreme Court to denounce the court's decision to end federal abortion protections on June 26, 2022.
Protesters embrace at a candlelight vigil in front of the Supreme Court on June 26 to denounce the court's decision to end federal abortion protections.Brandon Bell / Getty Images file

State abortion bans passed in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade could affect more than half of all female veterans and women with disabilities in the United States, an analysis by the National Partnership for Women and Families says.

The study published Friday by the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group found that abortion bans in the 26 states that are certain or likely to ban abortion could affect up to 2.8 million women with disabilities (53 percent of all such women in the U.S.) and 389,600 female veterans of reproductive age (also 53% of the U.S. total). 

The findings shine a light on subgroups of American women who faced barriers to abortion access before the court's June 24 decision on Roe, called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, said co-author Shaina Goodman, director of reproductive health and rights at the National Partnership for Women and Families.

“When we think about who is it that is least likely to have access to broader social support — things like access to high-quality health care or transportation, or some of the other services that not only are necessary to access abortion care but necessary to mitigate the harms that are caused by lack of access to abortion care — it’s also women with disabilities and women veterans that are impacted,” Goodman said. 

Goodman and co-author Katherine Gallagher Robbins, a senior fellow at the organization, analyzed five years of data, from 2016 to 2020, from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. The findings are based on data on women aged 15 to 49 in the 26 states, noting not all women of reproductive age can become pregnant. 

The findings do not include transgender men and nonbinary people in those states who could become pregnant, since the American Community Survey does not collect data on gender identity, the analysis said. Research suggests about 1.3 million transgender people and 1.2 million nonbinary people live in the U.S.

The analysis also did not examine the intersections between female veterans and women with disabilities, or those categories and women of color and low-income women who will also be disproportionately affected by state abortion bans, the study said.

About 58% of Native American women, 57% of Black women and 53% of low-income women live in states that have banned or are likely to ban abortion, according to the analysis.

Larkin Taylor-Parker, legal director of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, a nonprofit disability rights organization focused on the autistic community, said the report underscores the struggles people with disabilities face in accessing reproductive health care.

Taylor-Parker noted that research has shown transgender and nonbinary people have higher rates of autism than cisgender people, meaning the Dobbs decision could affect a significant number of people with disabilities who do not identify as women.

Taylor-Parker pointed to the roles that institutionalization and eugenics have historically played in denying bodily autonomy for Americans with disabilities, characterizing Dobbs as the latest barrier. 

“Our community has engaged in a generations-long struggle for bodily autonomy — this is something that marginalized people in general, and the disability community in particular, have had a hard time securing in the United States,” Taylor-Parker said.

“To this day, people with disabilities continue to struggle for control over things like sexual and reproductive choices, and this is an obvious step back in terms of control over our own bodies for a significant percentage of our population.”

Adults with disabilities are nearly twice as likely as people without disabilities to report unmet health needs because of barriers to care and are twice as likely to live in poverty, which could make traveling to other states for abortions difficult or impossible, Taylor-Parker said, citing a report produced last fall by the National Partnership for Women and Families and the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network. 

Texas, which has an abortion ban, has the highest number of women with disabilities of reproductive age of any state at 448,400, followed by Florida, which has a 15-week abortion ban and 301,500 women with disabilities of reproductive age, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families. 

Other logistical barriers can pose challenges to abortion access for people with disabilities, Taylor-Parker said.

“Reproductive care in general is not always physically accessible — if the building and the medical equipment are not accessible, that’s going to pose a significant obstacle" for people with disabilities, Taylor-Parker said. 

Sub-par or inaccessible sex education for people with disabilities “may mean that people don’t know their options and aren’t taught about their rights, which can lead to situations where people find themselves pregnant and don’t know what they can do,” Taylor-Parker said. 

The National Partnership for Women and Families analysis found that state abortion bans will pose a particular barrier for women who are veterans, especially for the majority who access health care through the Department of Veteran Affairs, which does not provide abortion or abortion counseling. Active service members, spouses and their dependents can still get abortions using military treatment facilities in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is at risk. 

“Where are they supposed to turn?” said Allison Jaslow, an Iraq war veteran and co-founder of Operation Liberty, an initiative formed following the Dobbs decision to push for the Department of Veterans Affairs to lift its abortion ban. 

“Even for women who don’t currently get VA health care, we would like to think that in a country that says that we support our veterans and our troops, it [the VA] could be an additional resource for them to turn to, as well, in a time like this,” she said. 

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough has said the department could provide abortion services if the rules were amended, which would include a public comment period.

The 1992 Veterans Health Care Act excluded abortion care from the department’s medical benefits package, but the 1996 Veterans’ Health Care Eligibility Reform Act gave the VA secretary the power to determine the medical services it offers.

A VA spokesperson said in a statement that officials “are assessing the impact of the Dobbs decision while remaining in close contact with Veterans and their families” and that the “VA does not provide abortion services or travel assistance related to abortion procedures.” 

Texas also has the highest number of female veterans of reproductive age of any state at 85,800, followed by Florida with 54,900, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families.