May 2021

Cross‑country abortion travel to England and Wales: Results from a cross‑sectional survey exploring people’s experiences crossing borders to obtain care

Garnsey C, Zanini G, De Zordo S, Mishtal J, Wollum A, Gerdts C. Cross‑country abortion travel to England and Wales: Results from a cross‑sectional survey exploring people’s experiences crossing borders to obtain care. BMC. May 2021.

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 and 2019.

Methods: We recruited 97 participants who had traveled 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 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.