Background: The laws governing abortion access vary across Europe. Even in countries with relatively liberal laws, numerous barriers to abortion access exist. In response to these barriers, evidence suggests that people living in countries with both restrictive and liberal laws travel outside of their home country for abortion care. England and Wales are common destinations for those who travel to seek abortions, but little is known about the motivations and experiences of those who undertake cross-country travel to England or Wales to obtain care. This paper aims to describe the abortion seeking and travel experiences of women and pregnant people who traveled to England and Wales for an abortion between 2017 and2019.
Methods: We recruited 97 participants who had travelled cross-country from both liberal and restrictive contexts to seek abortion care at three participating BPAS clinics in England and Wales. Participants completed an electronic survey about their reproductive histories, abortion decision-making, experiences seeking abortion care and traveling. We conducted a descriptive analysis, and include comparisons between participants who traveled from liberal and restrictive contexts.
Results: Over a third of participants considered abortion four weeks or more before presenting for care at BPAS, and around two-thirds sought abortion services in their home country before traveling. The majority of participants indicated that they would have preferred to have obtained an abortion earlier and cited reasons including scheduling issues, a dearth of local services, delayed pregnancy recognition, and financial difficulties as causing their delay. About seventy percent of participants reported travel costs between €101-1000 and 75% of participants reported that the cost of the abortion procedure exceeded €500. About half (53%) of participants indicated that, overall, their travel was very or somewhat difficult.
Conclusions: This analysis documents the burdens associated with cross-country travel for abortion and provides insight into the factors that compel people to travel. Our findings highlight the need for expanded access to abortion care throughout Europe via the removal of legal impediments and other social or procedural barriers. Removing barriers would eliminate the need for cumbersome abortion travel, and ensure that all people can obtain necessary, high-quality healthcare in their own communities.
Plain English summary: In Europe, women who live in countries where abortion is severely restricted or illegal altogether lack access to abortion care entirely, but even women who live in countries with more liberal laws face barriers due to gestational age limits, waiting periods, and a lack of trained and willing providers. Existing evidence suggests that restrictions and barriers compel women from both countries with restrictive laws as well as those from countries with liberal laws to travel outside of their home country for abortion services. England and Wales are common destinations for people traveling within Europe to obtain abortion services. However, little is known about the experiences of people who travel cross-country to England or Wales for abortions. We surveyed individuals who had traveled from another country to seek abortion services in England or Wales. Our analysis documents that many participants contemplated getting an abortion and sought care in their home countries before traveling. Likewise, many participants indicated that they would have preferred to have obtained an abortion earlier in their pregnancy, and referenced scheduling issues, a dearth of local services, delayed pregnancy recognition, and financial difficulties as causing their delay. A majority of participants indicated that covering the costs of their abortion, and the costs of travel was difficult, and that the travel experience in its entirety was difficult. Our findings document the reasons for, and burdens associated with abortion travel and highlight the need to expand access to abortion across Europe via the elimination of all legal restrictions and impediments.