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UW Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology issues travel warning

December 13, 2022
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Travel Advisory

If you are or may be pregnant, you should consult your medical provider before traveling to states that are limiting abortion services in the wake of the Supreme Court decision overruling Roe v. Wade.

Although most pregnancies are safe and uneventful, there is always some risk that a pregnancy will unexpectedly give rise to a medical emergency endangering the life or health of the patient.  The effective treatment of such emergencies sometimes requires termination of the pregnancy.  The level and type of risk varies with the duration of the pregnancy, and with a patient’s underlying medical condition.

In the states that are now limiting abortions, it is unclear to what extent necessary medical treatment for pregnancy-related emergencies will be permitted.  You should not assume that a state’s limitations on abortion services will contain an exception for your particular circumstances.

The statutes in these abortion-limiting states vary, and some are currently being or will be amended.  It is unclear how those anti-abortion laws will be interpreted in the future by local prosecutors or by state courts.  In states permitting private citizens to sue physicians who provide abortions, how a potential litigant might interpret state law is unpredictable.  In some instances in the past, abortion opponents have advanced opinions regarding the medical risks associated with pregnancies that are not consistent with medical science; such medically unsound views could affect the legal actions of state official or others. In some instances, these laws may obstruct your ability to obtain needed medical care or medication following a miscarriage.  These multiple legal uncertainties may deter physicians from providing needed medical care or deter hospital officials or others from permitting such care.  Physicians may also be deterred by concerns that their assessment of a patient’s medical condition will be later disputed by prosecutors or other officials.

If needed medical care is not available in a state that you may be visiting, whether it will be possible for you to leave that state to obtain needed care elsewhere will depend on your medical condition and financial resources.  Some medical issues are too urgent to afford the time needed for travel.  Airlines may not permit a passenger to board a plane if they are aware of a potential serious medical problem that might arise during a flight. Medevac flights may be the only option.  In addition, officials in a number of states now limiting abortion have indicated that they may seek to prevent anyone from leaving the state to seek to obtain an abortion in another state.

Because of these unavoidable medical and legal uncertainties, your decision regarding whether to travel to a state that limits abortions will depend in part on what degree of risk you are willing to take, and on how long you would be visiting the state in question.

State-specific information about current laws limiting abortion is available here and here.

General information about the types of medical emergencies that could arise during a pregnancy is available here.

Information about the denial of needed emergency medical care because of restrictions on abortion services is available on the following sites:

This travel advisory is written by:
Dr. Sarah Prager, Professor of OBGYN and Complex Family Planning Division Director, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, University of Washington
Eric Schnapper, Professor of Law, University of Washington

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