With abortion now illegal in Kentucky in nearly all circumstances, the best option for most Kentuckians seeking an abortion is to travel to a state where abortion is still legal.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruling – issued Friday in favor of the state of Mississippi in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization – overtured the federal protections for a person’s right to choose an abortion provided by the landmark 1973 case Roe v. Wade.
Kentucky’s legislature passed a so-called “trigger law” in 2019 set to go into effect automatically should the Supreme Court overturn Roe. Other legislatures also prepared for this eventuality: 22 states had laws on the books immediately banning abortion or paving the way for a ban in the immediate wake of Roe being struck down.
Of Kentucky’s neighboring states, abortion is enshrined in Illinois – where an influx of out-of-state abortion-seekers is expected – and it remains legal, but heavily restricted, in Indiana, Ohio and Virginia.
The closest abortion clinics to Kentucky’s border are in southern Illinois (Springfield, Decatur and soon in Carbondale), southern Indiana (Bloomington), southern Ohio (Cincinnati), North Carolina (Asheville) and Virginia (Roanoke).
Two of Kentucky’s bordering states, Missouri and Tennessee, and nearby Arkansas also had “trigger laws” in place and, in the border state of West Virginia, a pre-Roe abortion ban is expected to automatically go into effect.
Center for Reproductive Rights president and CEO Nancy Northup says the court’s decision will create abortion deserts where travel will become the only path to treatment for some people.
“It’s going to leave vast swaths of the south and the Midwest without protection for abortion and forcing people to drive thousands of miles if they have the means to do so,” she said. “Not all will have the means to do so and it is not hyperbolic to say that they will be severely harmed.”
People seeking an abortion in some surrounding states are forced by law to make two trips to the clinic. In Ohio, one trip must be made for in-person counseling and another at least 24 hours later for the procedure. In Indiana, a second trip must be made at least 18 hours after an in-person counseling session.
This story has been updated.