Many service members will now need to travel much farther in order to receive an abortion. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.
Prior to Friday, a woman assigned to Keesler Air Force Base — the largest military facility in Mississippi — who sought an abortion would need to drive 90 miles to New Orleans, the nearest clinic, according to a major database of abortion providers.
Now it’s a 591-mile drive, each way, to Asheville, North Carolina — which now has the closest legal abortion clinic to Keesler — a round trip of about 20 hours.
And she is not alone. About half a million active-duty US military members now face far longer drives — some close to 600 miles farther — to receive legal abortion care after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday, June 24. In all, about one-third of the US military’s total active-duty force and their families are stationed in two dozen states — mostly across the South and Southwest — where abortion is now illegal or likely soon will be.
For a woman assigned to US Central Command Headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida — or a man assigned there whose wife, girlfriend, daughter, or other close female relation becomes pregnant — the nearest clinic that offers legal abortion care is All Women’s Health Center of Tampa, just 6 miles from base. But that drive will soon be 577 miles, to Charlotte, North Carolina’s Family Reproductive Health clinic, should Florida officials follow through on promises to soon change state laws.
In Ohio, any woman who became pregnant on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base has been able to get an abortion 14 miles from the base. Soon, the same medical care will require a 387-mile drive to the Seneca Health Center just outside Buffalo, New York.
And for soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas — or the wives, daughters, girlfriends, or other female relations of soldiers there — who seek abortion services, the 64-mile drive to a clinic in Waco is now a 507-mile drive to Wichita, Kansas — for now. However, a state referendum on abortion scheduled for August could quickly lead to a state ban, which would mean troops at Fort Hood would have to travel 614 miles to Las Cruces, New Mexico for care.
Soldiers at many bases also will have to navigate mileage limits on local leave and pass restrictions. Many units impose “block leave” on members, limiting when members can take leave around a deployment or alert schedule. Many commanders also impose limits on mileage that troops can travel away from base on weekends and liberty passes, or even on leave for some rapidly deployable units.
Using a database of abortion providers, Coffee or Die Magazine calculated the distances that military members assigned to 15 major military installations have had to drive to reach abortion care, and the distances they must travel now.
In many cases, particularly across the heavily military South, driving distances to the closest abortion provider have jumped from a few dozen miles to over 300 miles, and in some cases close to 600 miles — one way — as calculated by Google Maps driving directions.
Major bases affected include (all distances are one way):
Joint Base San Antonio (calculated from Fort Sam Houston): Increase of 586 miles
Fort Hood, Texas: Increase of 550 miles
Fort Benning, Georgia: Increase of 370 miles
Parris Island, South Carolina: Increase of 244 miles
Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri: Increase of 15 miles
Keesler AFB, Mississippi: Increase of 501 miles
Maxwell-Gunter AFB, Alabama: Increase of 359 miles
Redstone Arsenal, Alabama (future home of US Space Command and major US Space Force units): Increase of 326 miles
Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida: Increase of 363 miles
CENTCOM HQ/MacDill AFB, Tampa: Increase of 571 miles
Iowa National Guard Joint Forces Headquarters, Johnston, Iowa: Increase of 194 miles
F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming: No change
Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota: Increase of 202 miles
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio: Increase of 373 miles
Luke AFB, Arizona: Increase of 307 miles
Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho: Increase of 310 miles
In many of the cases listed above, the bases sit in one of 13 states with “trigger laws” on the books designed to instantly outlaw abortion on the day Roe v. Wade is overturned — which happened Friday morning — or that already had abortion bans in place that had survived court challenges.
Those trigger-law states include Texas, which has close to 175,000 active-duty military members at major installations like Joint Base San Antonio and Fort Hood, along with Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Tennessee.
In all, those states have a combined military active-duty population of 240,000, plus families.
An additional seven states have anti-abortion laws on the books that are expected to go into effect or be quickly re-enacted by state lawmakers. Those states include military-heavy South Carolina and Georgia, along with Alabama, Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia — home, together, to an additional 125,000 military members, plus families. Georgia has about 70,000 active-duty members at major bases like Fort Benning, Fort Stewart, and Moody Air Force Base. South Carolina is home to about 18,000 active-duty troops with installations like Fort Jackson and Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
Finally, Florida and Arizona have 15-week abortion bans in place, which will now be law. Both states also have legislatures and governorships controlled by Republicans who have said they are likely to enact more restrictive laws in the near future. Florida is home to 107,000 active-duty members, with major centers in Pensacola, Eglin Air Force Base, Jacksonville, and Tampa.
Florida and Arizona together are home to 89,000 active-duty members.
If a woman is stationed in any of those states — or if their partner or a parent is — she will now need to travel across state lines, sometimes several times over, to reach a state where abortion is expected to remain legal.
Generally, women in Texas will need to reach New Mexico (depending on political outcomes in Kansas), while women across the South, including Florida, will need to drive to North Carolina. Across the Midwest, the nearest abortion provider may soon be in Illinois near St. Louis or Chicago, or as far east as Buffalo, New York. Those in the Mountain States, such as Idaho or Utah, will need to drive to western Oregon or Colorado.
Many states also require waiting periods. Along with the cost of travel, women may have to find lodging — and miss work — in the distant states.
Researcher Jude White contributed to this story.
Editor’s note: A clinic in Wichita, Kansas was added to this story as the closest legal abortion provider for Fort Hood, Texas after a review of the political landscape in Kansas. Kansas clinics were initially excluded from this story due to an upcoming state referendum that could quickly lead to a state ban on abortion. However, it is now included in this story because abortion is currently legal and protected by a state Supreme Court ruling in Kansas.
Matt White is a former senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine. He was a pararescueman in the Air Force and the Alaska Air National Guard for eight years and has more than a decade of experience in daily and magazine journalism.
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