New in Women’s Health Issues: Utah’s 72-hour waiting period law increased burdens on women seeking abortions

Nearly two-thirds of women who received abortions in Utah reported negative impacts related to the state’s requirement for in-person counseling 72 hours before receiving an abortion. This is among the findings from the Editor’s Choice study in the latest issue of the journal Women’s Health Issues, “The Longest Wait: Examining the Impact of Utah’s 72-Hour Waiting Period for Abortion.”

In the study Jessica Sanders, of the University of Utah School of Medicine, and colleagues conducted two separate assessments. With medical chart data from Utah abortion clinics, they compared the percentage of women who returned for abortions following mandatory counseling sessions from May 8, 2011, to May 7, 2012, when the required waiting period was 24 hours, to the percentage who returned from May 8, 2012 to May 7, 2013, after the required waiting period increased to 72 hours. They also surveyed women who received abortions at a single clinic about their experiences under the 72-hour requirement. 

When comparing the percentage of women who returned for abortions following counseling, the authors found a small difference: 80 percent returned when the waiting period was 24 hours, whereas 77 percent returned when it was 72 hours. With their survey of women who returned for abortions after the 72-hour law took effect, they found 62 percent reported that the wait affected them negatively in some way, such as lost wages from extra time taken off work (47 percent) or paying more for transportation (30 percent). In addition, 63 percent reported receiving abortions more than seven days after they visited the clinic for counseling, the authors reported.

Sanders and her colleagues explained that this study was not designed to investigate reasons women did not return for abortions after receiving counseling, but they noted that research conducted after Mississippi enacted a 24-hour waiting-period law requiring in-person counseling found more women traveling out of state for abortions. “[P]olicymakers should understand the potential impacts of legislating medical care,” they wrote, noting that research has found hurdles to abortion services “disproportionally impact women with fewer resources and those who must travel longer distances to access medical care.”

Women’s Health Issues is the peer-reviewed journal of the Jacobs Institute of Women’s Health, which is part of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University.

Read online: The Longest Wait: Examining the Impact of Utah’s 72-Hour Waiting Period for Abortion