In June 2022, the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade. Almost 50 years after abortion was legalized across the USA, abortions were instantly banned in at least fifteen states and access has been compromised significantly in many, many more.

This upheaval in US abortion laws has far wider ramifications than many might have initially thought. Not only have many millions of US-based women (especially those most at-risk and disadvantaged) had their basic human right to abortion (which is essential health care) stripped, but women’s right to travel freely is also being obstructed by some US state authorities – based purely on a woman’s history of abortion, pregnancy status, and even the supposition or speculation that she may be travelling for an abortion.

One example of this necessity to cross state lines was when a 10-year-old girl who was raped in Ohio (where abortion is banned from 42 days’ gestation) had to travel to Indiana for an abortion when her pregnancy was discovered at 45 days’ gestation.

How Have Recent Changes to US Abortion Law Impacted Travel?

Women who reside in states where abortion is now banned may be questioned at international and state border points. If authorities believe they are leaving the state to access abortion services elsewhere, they may be detained and even arrested.

Are abortion travel bans legal? In July 2022, the US House of Representatives passed legislation to safeguard the right to travel across state lines to seek an abortion – despite vigorous attempts by the Republicans to block it.

Anti-abortion lawmakers, however, continue to strive to block women from travelling across state lines to terminate a pregnancy – and state laws are not the same as federal laws. There have been numerous cases reported where vehicles have been stopped at state borders and, if a woman of childbearing age is in the car, they are questioned about her pregnancy status and sometimes blocked from leaving the state.
Individual states such as Missouri have even considered bills to allow civil lawsuits against any person aiding a woman to seek an abortion out-of-state – including support people and medical providers.

Furthermore, and of significant concern to travellers, non-American females who are travelling to the USA (and even those who are simply transiting through the USA to another country) can now be asked by US Customs Border Protection (CBP) authorities whether they have had an abortion.

The CBP policy, according to a directive issued in November 2021, allows its agents to ask airport detainees health-related questions, including those relating to pregnancy and pregnancy loss. While this is, ostensibly, to enable them to provide appropriate care for people in custody who may be pregnant, recently postpartum, caring for an infant, or breastfeeding (and the directive includes recent miscarriages and stillbirths), abortion is not mentioned.

Customs Border Protection officials are, however, asking questions about abortion – even in “abortion-friendly” states such as California.

How Does This Affect Australians?

Australian women (and their travel companions) are right to be concerned about the wider impacts of what can only be considered an extreme overreach by US authorities in this respect.

As reported by SBS News in September 2022, Australian woman Madolline Gourley directly experienced the consequences of these legislative changes and “grey areas” when she was travelling in June 2022.
Gourley was shocked to be questioned about her abortion history at Los Angeles International Airport. She was not entering the USA, but in transit to Montreal, Canada to house-and-cat sit in exchange for free accommodation.

US officials flagged her intent for travelling to Canada as suspicious under the terms of the visa waiver program (which does not allow for employment for profit) and detained her for questioning as she had not yet been provided with boarding passes for her connecting flight.

She was physically patted down, held for five hours, and interviewed twice. At one point during this interrogation, Gourley was asked by a female Customs officer whether she had recently had an abortion. The relevance of such questioning was never conveyed.

Gourley, with no explanation or documentation confirming the decision or its reasoning, was immediately deported back to Australia – even though she had broken no laws and the USA was never her destination in the first place.

Interestingly, Gourley was asked no other health-related questions aside from her abortion history while she was being held. She was never asked whether she was pregnant or if she had any other health condition or symptoms or required medication. This makes the claim that CBP questioning is related to the welfare of women in its custody somewhat dubitable.

The question of whether Gourley (or any woman) has or has not recently or ever had an abortion is irrelevant in this instance. The issue is the fact that the question was even asked – particularly in the absence of wider questioning about immediate health and welfare needs.

Where Can This Be an Issue?

The fact that federal CBP officials are asking these questions even in California, one of the US states most committed to upholding women’s abortion rights, suggests that this can be an issue anywhere in the USA. It is also entirely possible that women arriving in or transiting through “less friendly” states may experience harsher questioning and outcomes.

Australian women need to be aware of these possibilities when travelling to or through the USA at this time. Though this information should be private, know that lying to CBP officials in any way is a criminal offence. Some women may prefer to look at options to travel without transitioning through the USA – for example, travel to Canada directly or transit via another country; for example, Seoul in South Korea.

Safe Legal Abortion in NSW & the ACT

Gynaecology Centres Australia offers women of all ages safe, legal first-trimester abortion services.

We offer a comprehensive range of women’s health services in a confidential, compassionate medical clinic setting. Staffed by specialist doctors and nurses, we have clinics in Greater Sydney, Gosford, Newcastle, Wollongong, and Queanbeyan (ACT).

From pregnancy care and miscarriage management to contraception, women’s health screening (including breast and cervical screening), fertility advice, STI diagnosis and treatment, treatment for various gynaecological conditions, surgical abortion services, menopause management, counselling, and vasectomies for men, we are here to deliver the standard of care that you deserve.

Contact us now – you do not need a GP referral to visit our clinic.

Please call 02 9585 9599 or complete our online booking form.