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Research study

Utah’s 72-Hour Waiting Period

- back to the Evaluation of Abortion Restrictions Project

Background

In May 2012, Utah implemented a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking abortion. This law requires that women wait at least 72 business hours between having a face-to-face abortion information visit, where they receive mandated information, and obtaining their abortion. This requires two separate visits. While 24-hour waiting periods have been in effect in multiple states for many years, Utah was the first state to implement a 72-hour waiting period. Since then, other states, including South Dakota and Missouri, have implemented 72-hour waiting periods and others have implemented 48-hour waiting periods.

Objectives

To understand women’s experiences with a Utah state law requiring women to wait 72 hours between having a face-to-face abortion information visit and receiving their abortion.

Study design

Participants include 500 women presenting at an abortion information visit at one of four family planning facilities in Utah. Participants completed baseline surveys at the information visit and follow-up telephone interviews three weeks later. Follow-up questions included questions about whether and when participants had an abortion, their reasons for not having had an abortion (in cases where they have not had an abortion), reasons for waiting more than 72 hours, and their experiences with the two-visit requirement, state-mandated information, and waiting period.

Key findings

The vast majority of women are certain about their decision by the time they present for their abortion information visit and go on to obtain an abortion. The 72-hour waiting period and two visit requirements create hardships for women, most of whom have already made the decision to have an abortion by the time they present for care.

  • Women seeking an abortion are as certain, if not more certain, about their decision as women and men making other health care decisions.
  • Utah’s 72-hour waiting period and two-visit requirement:
    • burdened women with financial costs, logistical hassles and extended periods of dwelling on decisions they had already made.
    • led some women to worry that they may not be able to have the type of abortion they preferred.
    • pushed at least one woman beyond her facility’s gestational limit for abortion.

Having to wait did not appear to change women’s minds.

  • Most women had made the decision to have an abortion and were not conflicted about their decision when they presented for their abortion information visit. Only 8% reported high conflict at the beginning of the information visit. Most (86%) went on to have an abortion.
  • 8% reported changing their minds, but most of those women had been conflicted at the information visit.
    • Only 2% of women who were not conflicted about their decision at the beginning of the information visit did not have an abortion, which is in line with estimates from studies in settings without waiting periods or two-visit requirements.
  • Most women did not change their certainty as a result of either having to make an information visit or having to wait 72-hours.
    • Changes in certainty were largely concentrated in the minority of women who expressed uncertainty about their decision before the beginning of the information visit.
    • The few who reported becoming more certain attributed becoming more certain to learning more about the procedure, meeting clinic staff, and discovering that the facility was a safe medical environment with professional staff. Neither those who became more certain nor the few who became less certain mentioned information about the health outcomes of having an abortion (which are typically what are included in state-mandated information) as having contributed to their certainty.

Download the Utah 72-hour waiting period Issue Brief, which highlights some of the findings of this study.

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ANSIRH is a program within the UCSF Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health and is a part of UCSF's Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences.

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