Editor’s note: While Wanderful supports our collective right to bodily autonomy, our readers’ safety is our priority. This includes safeguarding your internet activity from those who may wish to use it against you. If you’ve found this article and live in a state with abortion restrictions in place, you may wish to wait before going any further until you can set up a VPN or use a safer web browser. More on how to do that is below. Wanderful does not encourage or condone illegal activity.
Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to strike down its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling and permit statewide bans on abortion across the country. It’s a shamefully meaningful day in the country’s history. Not only is this the first time that the Court has ever rolled back a right that it had previously granted (“and conferr[ed] it on the State,” wrote dissenting Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) but it’s also a grim reminder that the rights, privacy, and bodies of women, trans people, and nonbinary people are perpetually under attack by those in power.
At the time of the ruling, 26 states were on the cusp of banning abortion almost immediately. And while the FDA has authorized the use of telehealth for abortion medication—a glimmer of hope for people in those 26 states and beyond—some have already passed laws that prohibit its shipment. This means that people in more than half the country may soon have to travel out of state—assuming, of course, that they can afford to—in order to access what should be an easily fillable prescription or quick medical procedure.
Maybe you’re one of them.
If you need to travel out of state to get an abortion, here’s how to do it.
Know the law(s)
As mentioned, 26 states were certain or likely to ban abortion almost immediately after the ruling came down. Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas all took steps to implement their bans almost immediately. And as of writing, abortion is now illegal or heavily restricted in at least 11 states. More either have pre-Roe bans or restrictions still in place or else have “trigger bans” which will likely go into effect shortly. A few more are also likely to pass restrictive bans soon. And though many legislatures are currently or will soon be adjourned on summer break, these numbers could change rapidly in the coming days, weeks, or months (or years—depending on when you’re reading this). That’s why it’s important to always know what the laws in both your state and any state you plan to travel to are.
To write this article, I reached out to Cathren Cohen, a former colleague during my time at Lambda Legal. Cohen is currently an attorney and scholar with the UCLA Law Center on Reproductive Health, Law, and Policy and co-producer of the Sex Ed with DB podcast.
“Always check the laws of your state prior to seeking any sort of abortion care,” she says. “From past instances of abortion and miscarriage criminalization, we know that people of color, low-income [people], and other marginalized groups who are already over-policed will be the most likely to face legal consequences for adverse pregnancy outcomes, so if you are in one of these groups, keep this in mind.”
When choosing where to go for your abortion, keep in mind not only the laws in the state you’re traveling to but also that state’s proximity to you (which can impact travel costs); the kinds of procedure(s) available (medication and surgical abortions have different recovery times, which can also impact cost and travel time); and other restrictions like state-mandated counseling or waiting periods (more on this below), parental involvement (if you’re a minor), or whether providers can even provide abortions for those who live out of state (without, for instance, fear of extradition).
“It is really important for people to assess their legal risks before they travel to obtain an abortion,” says Cohen. “Check the laws in your state and the state you are visiting […], visit If/When/How’s website for know your rights information, and be sure to contact their Legal Helpline [at 844-868-2812] if you fear you may face legal consequences for your abortion or any other pregnancy outcomes.”
But things aren’t entirely bleak. While many states have taken recent steps to pass more abortion restrictions, a number have done the opposite—working toward enacting policies to expand abortion access.
“If you are planning to travel out-of-state for abortion care, it may be wise to choose a state which has strengthened protections to prevent criminalization, civil liability, or sharing of medical records to be used to criminalize abortion care,” says Cohen. She names three that have particularly good legislation on the books:
- California has a number of pieces of legislation either already enacted or moving through the legislature to protect against out-of-state criminalization or judgments. Notably, Governor Gavin Newsome signed a bill yesterday afternoon which will protect Californians (including abortion providers and facilitators) from civil liability. There are two other bills currently progressing through the state legislature that are expected to become law: one would prohibit any civil or criminal liability for pregnancy outcomes and another would strengthen medical privacy laws around abortion care records and prohibit disclosing medical records to law enforcement or out-of-state third parties.
- Connecticut recently enacted legislation to help protect people who travel for an abortion if they get one in Connecticut and then are sued in another state. The law allows a person or corporation who “has a judgment entered” against them by another state for receiving, providing, or helping a person obtain an abortion to sue the state for damages. It also “limits the governor’s discretion to extradite individuals accused of performing acts in Connecticut that result in crimes in another state.”
- New York recently enacted a series of laws that shield abortion patients and providers from out-of-state legal actions, including blocking New York courts from issuing subpoenas in connection with such actions, prohibiting the extradition of abortion providers, and protecting the rights of people seeking abortions in the state.
But there are certainly other states where abortion is legal and that have their own pending pro-choice legislation. That’s why it’s important to do your research before choosing where to go.
Here are some resources that may be useful when researching where to get your abortion:
- The Guttmacher Institute has a state-by-state table of abortion policies.
- Rewire News Group’s website and Twitter offer up-to-date information and legal commentary.
- This interactive map from NBC shows travel times from major cities to the nearest abortion provider.
- National Abortion Federation (NAF) and Abortion Finder can also help you research providers.
As mentioned above, digital surveillance should be a real concern for people who live in states with abortion restrictions. Many tech companies already collect, store, and sell user data, with few federal regulations in place to stop them. This means that it’s not out of the realm of possibility for law enforcement to get its hands on things like internet search histories in cases of miscarriages, stillbirths, or pregnancy termination—it’s even happened before.
“Take steps to limit the digital record when you are seeking information or abortion care,” says Cohen. “If possible, coordinating care offline is better than using the internet. […] Use encrypted texting apps, be very careful about saying anything in email, and avoid sharing information on social media sites [like Facebook] with a record of giving authorities access to private information.”
Lisa Ryan, former senior writer at The Cut and current head of newsletters at Insider, has outlined a list of steps that you can take to keep yourself safe online while planning your in- or out-of-state abortion, ranging from simple to more extreme. Writing Fellow Bindu Bansiath and Senior Writer Katie Heaney have also outlined further steps that you can take.
- Don’t send private messages on a computer owned by your employer. Some employers monitor employee activity, and could willingly or be compelled to turn it over to the authorities.
- Get a burner phone. Yes, really. This will keep your name off of phone records for any calls you make while planning your abortion and will help avoid the possibility of your phone being tracked.
- If you can’t get a burner phone, at the very least make sure to turn off face or touch ID, turn off your phone entirely (or leave it at home) when you’re at or near a clinic, and get an encrypted texting and/or voice call app. I recommend the Signal or Telegram apps, but other options exist.
- Get a secret email. This one is a failsafe in case someone is able to gain access to your main email account.
- Communicate with people offline and don’t use a computer at all. As Ryan writes, “the easiest way to avoid leaving a digital footprint is to never make one in the first place.” Head to a public library and use the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) website to find and contact your closest abortion fund, which can help provide you with more local information.
- Be clear with your abortion provider about the best ways to contact you. Many abortion providers understand the need for privacy, so will go out of their way to ask you how you’d like them to contact you. Even if they don’t, make sure you’re clear about how they should reach you.
- Get a browser that can’t be traced. This is not the same as using an incognito or private browsing session. Griffin Boyce, former systems administrator at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and current privacy lead at Google, recommends Tor, an encrypted browser that works by using multiple servers to help conceal your identity and location.
- Purchase a VPN (virtual private network) service. VPNs mask server signals to conceal your identity and location. This guide from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) can help you choose the best one for you. Using a VPN on your personal computer while connected to a public network (like in a library or coffee shop—not your home network) may be one of the safest options for doing abortion research online.
- Send encrypted emails. You can do this by simply making sure the URL says https:// (not http://) when logging into your email account online. If you want to go further, you can also set up end-to-end encryption.
- Don’t use insurance and pay with cash. Abortion appointments can be expensive, but the cost may be worth it if your safety is at risk. If you can’t avoid using a payment service, Apple Pay may be your best option.
While nothing is guaranteed, taking some or all of these precautions is a great step toward ensuring your safety.
Some activists and data privacy experts are also calling on people who think they could potentially need an abortion in the future—even if not now—to delete their period tracking apps.
“There is a record of period tracking apps sharing and selling people’s private health information. Currently, period-tracking apps are not subject to federal health privacy protections, like HIPAA,” says Cohen. “From prior cases of abortion and pregnancy outcome criminalization, we know that law enforcement uses digital information, including health records, search history, search engine caches, text messages and e-mails, and more to investigate people for criminalization.”
That said, Clue (which I have personally used for years), seems to be committed to keeping its users’ personal data safe.
Plan your trip
Planning an out-of-state trip to get an abortion comes with obvious financial costs. That’s why it’s a good idea to think about which abortion procedure will work best for you and also check if the state you plan to go to has any kind of waiting period regulations—as both can impact the amount of time you’re away from home. Factoring in recovery time, a potential waiting period, appointment scheduling, and travel days (depending on where you’re traveling from) mean you may need to plan to be away for as long as a week.
“Medication abortions take several days to complete and bleeding and cramping may prevent the person from traveling during that time,” says Cohen. “In contrast, aspiration abortions and D&Es take place wholly in-clinic and are one-day procedures.”
A medication abortion is typically completed within 48 hours, though you may experience cramping and bleeding for a few days to a few weeks after. A surgical abortion usually takes under 20 minutes, with cramping and bleeding for up to two weeks after. Most people can return to normal activities one to two days after either option. In total, that puts you at three to four days of recovery for a medication abortion and just over one to two days of recovery for a surgical abortion.
As of June 24, 25 states had abortion waiting periods. These waiting periods mean that a patient must first visit a provider and then wait a specific amount of time (usually 24-72 hours) before getting the procedure. Waiting periods can complicate travel and make an out-of-state abortion even more expensive, as you will have to book any planned accommodation for even longer.
Speaking of accommodation (and beyond), it’s extremely important to be careful about who you disclose your plans to—whether it’s your Airbnb host, the concierge at your hotel, or even your Uber driver.
“Laws like Texas’s SB 8 allow a lawsuit to be initiated against anyone, living in Texas or not, who helps someone obtain an abortion that violates their state law,” says Cohen. “Part of the goal of this vigilante enforcement scheme is to scare people out of helping abortion patients out of a fear they could be sued and fined $10,000. This scare tactic may be effective against companies like hotels as well; we will have to see how it plays out.”
Between the costs of travel and accommodations—plus any potential childcare, pet sitting needs, and missed work—planning an out-of-state abortion can quickly become expensive. But there is help:
- NNAF can connect you with organizations to support your financial and logistical needs as you plan your abortion.
- The NAF Hotline Fund operates the largest national, toll-free, multi-lingual hotline for abortion referrals and financial assistance.
- This article from Who What Wear lists abortion funds in states with “trigger laws” as well as nationwide abortion support organizations.
- Apiary offers this list of national, regional, and local organizations that can financially help.
- Indigenous Women Rising is open to all Indigenous people who have the capacity to become pregnant and are seeking an abortion in the United States.
- The Brigid Alliance books, coordinates, and pays for travel, travel expenses, and childcare for people seeking abortions.
- The Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project helps bridge the financial gap for people who need abortions or emergency contraception.
Take care of yourself
For many people, getting an abortion is a difficult experience. For many others, it’s a welcome relief. Either way and if you’re able, consider bringing someone you trust along with you to help while you recover (and ensuring that they take the same steps to protect themself from digital surveillance). If you can’t bring someone along, consider looking into connecting with locals wherever you’re headed. Many groups of travelers, in particular—like the Wanderful community—are stationed around the country (and world) and available to offer connection and support.
Things feel bad right now. I won’t pretend they’re not. This ruling will have significant, far-reaching impact across the country immediately and for decades to come, in particular on Black and Indigenous communities and other communities of color, on people with low income, on people in rural communities, on people in the Midwest and South, on disabled people, and on so many more. But take it from me—someone who is anything but an optimist—this is not the end. Advocates and activists have been preparing for this, and the fight for safe, accessible reproductive healthcare, bodily autonomy, and privacy is far from over.
If you’re here because you or someone you know is in need of an abortion, I hope you find this useful, and I hope you are able to access the support you need. Our connection and community are our power. And no matter how hard they may try, they can’t take them from us.
Superb article, Ariel.
Colorado’s Governor has signed legislation keep abortion safe and legal.
There are “camping” facebook groups and another called “Auntie”. There are scores of women happy to help – first names only, covid masks, and hoodies to help with hiding identity – with a place to stay, rides to and from, etc.
Help is out there for women who need it.
And let’s get out the vote this and every November. Pledge to go to a swing state, rent a passenger van, and drive people to the poles, do what it takes to stop this war on women.