Hundreds of Thousands of Women on Parole Face Travel Bans for Seeking Abortion Care

Hundreds of Thousands of Women on Parole Face Travel Bans for Seeking Abortion Care
Abortion rights activists sit down in a mass civil disobedience action near the US Capitol to protest the US Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe Vs. Wade in Washington, DC, on June 30, 2022. (Photo: Nicholas Kamm, Getty Images)

In the wake of an overturned Roe v. Wade, hundreds of thousands of women in the U.S. could face legal restrictions that prevent them from travelling to receive abortion care as a result of being on probation or parole. Advocates say the decision to allow interstate travel may ultimately fall on low-level state employees, who could just as easily choose to prioritise their own beliefs over the wishes of the women they supervise.

The Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit that tracks criminalization data and works to shine a light on the harms caused by mass incarceration, stated in a briefing last week that the end of Roe v. Wade could have substantial consequences for many of the 231,000 women incarcerated in America on any given day as well as their counterparts outside jail and prison walls. Several times as many women are on probation or parole right now as are incarcerated, conditions of which often preclude travelling across state lines without permission, the group says. (Probation is a sentence handed down usually for minor crimes in lieu of jail time, while parole is an extension of a prison sentence.)

“With the sole authority to approve or deny a trip across state lines for abortion care, a probation or parole officer might choose to prioritise their own personal beliefs about abortion over the desires of the individual under their control,” the Initative’s briefing reads.

In the 13 states with so-called “trigger laws” — those designed to automatically ban abortion in the event Roe was overturned — as many as 215,000 women may currently be on probation or parole. This figure stems from estimates released in 2016 by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. The agency’s more recent stats, according to the Initiative, do not include data by state and sex.

Out-of-state travel is an option in some cases, but often requires a formal justification. Ultimately, this means that in many areas of the country, state employees charged with supervising probationers and parolees will have sole authority over whether a pregnant person can travel to receive medical care criminalized by their own state.

Graphic: Prison Policy Initiative / Bureau of Justice StatisticsGraphic: Prison Policy Initiative / Bureau of Justice Statistics

“They might also choose to delay the decision until it’s no longer possible — or safe — for the individual they’re supervising to terminate a pregnancy,” the briefing reads.

According to the group, as many as 58,000 women are admitted into jails and prisons while pregnant each year. In some states, rates of miscarriage among women in custody have been documented as exceeding the national average.

“As many others have already noted over the last few days, the growing criminalization of abortion won’t impact everyone equally,” the group said. “The abortions that these new post-Roe laws prevent will disproportionately be among people who are poor and lack access to transportation across state lines. People on probation and parole are a key segment of this demographic.”