With the leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn the constitutional right to abortion established by Roe v. Wade, the future of abortion access in many states is uncertain. Without a clinic close by to obtain one, supporters of abortion rights say they expect to see patients increasingly opting for medication abortion, which can be done at home with a series of pills rather than having a surgical procedure in a clinic.
In Pennsylvania, the law allows abortion up to the 24th week of pregnancy. That won't immediately change if Roe v. Wade is overruled, although the state legislature could attempt to pass more restrictions. In neighboring Ohio and West Virginia, abortion rights would likely be eliminated if the landmark 1973 decision is overruled. That could mean an influx of patients from those states crossing the state line to seek abortions in Western Pennsylvania.
"It's very likely that people who are not able to go to a clinic in their state because they're all closed would be scrambling to find access some other way," said Sue Frietsche, senior staff attorney at the Women's Law Project, a nonprofit legal organization with offices in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
Medication abortion has been available in the United States since 2000, yet only one-third of women between the ages of 18 and 49 have ever heard of it, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. Around half of all abortions are already done using medication.
In 2020, the most recent year for which data is available, 16,349 of 32,123 reported abortions in Pennsylvania were done using medication. That could very well increase if clinics close because of changes in state laws. Here's what you need to know about the abortion pill.
Q. How do people get medication abortion in Pennsylvania?
A. "Abortion medication in Pennsylvania is regulated through same laws that regulate procedural abortion," said Frietsche. "That means that all of the restrictions in the Abortion Control Act also apply to medication abortion."
Under Pennsylvania's Abortion Control Act, a pregnant person must first attend a state-mandated counseling session and then wait 24 hours before an abortion can be provided. Minors must receive parental consent.
"The way a person would go about accessing medication abortion in Pennsylvania is the same way that you would go about accessing a procedural abortion, which is to contact one of the abortion facilities in the state," Frietsche said.
In the Pittsburgh area, Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, Allegheny Reproductive Health Center and Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC provide abortions. The Women's Law Project estimates that there are 17 abortion clinics in the state of Pennsylvania.