Experiences of women who travel for abortion: A mixed methods systematic review
Barr-Walker J, Jayaweera R, Ramirez A, Gerdts C. Experiences of women who travel for abortion: A mixed methods systematic review. PLoS ONE. 2019; 14(4): e0209991. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0209991.
Objective: To systematically review the literature on women’s experiences traveling for abortion and assess how this concept has been explored and operationalized, with a focus on travel distance, cost, delays, and other barriers to receiving services.
Background: Increasing limitations on abortion providers and access to care have increased the necessity of travel for abortion services around the world. No systematic examination of women’s experiences traveling for abortion has been conducted; this mixed-methods review provides a summary of the qualitative and quantitative literature on this topic.
Methods: A systematic search was conducted using PubMed, Embase, Web of Science, Popline, and Google Scholar in July 2016 and updated in March 2017 (PROSPERO registration # CRD42016046007). We included original research studies that described women’s experiences traveling for abortion. Two reviewers independently performed article screening, data extraction and determination of final inclusion for analysis. Critical appraisal was conducted using CASP, STROBE, and MMAT checklists.
Results: We included 59 publications: 46 quantitative studies, 12 qualitative studies, and 1 mixed-methods study. Most studies were published in the last five years, relied on data from the US, and discussed travel as a secondary outcome of interest. In quantitative studies, travel was primarily conceptualized and measured as road or straight-line distance to abortion provider, though some studies also incorporated measures of burdens related to travel, such as financial cost, childcare needs, and unwanted disclosure of their abortion status to others. Qualitative studies explored regional disparities in access to abortion care, with a focus on the burdens related to travel, the impact of travel on abortion method choice, and women’s reasons for travel. Studies generally were of high quality, though many studies lacked information on participant recruitment or consideration of potential biases.
Conclusions: Standardized measurements of travel, including burdens associated with travel and more nuanced considerations of travel costs, should be implemented in order to facilitate comparison across studies. More research is needed to explore and accurately capture different dimensions of the burden of travel for abortion services on women’s lives.