Reassessing the Effects of Mandatory Waiting Periods for Abortion

Monday, June 24, 2019: 7:45 AM
Jackson - Mezzanine Level (Marriott Wardman Park Hotel)

Presenter: Mayra Pineda Torres

Co-Author: Jason Lindo

Discussant: Grace Arnold

As of 2018, twenty-seven states require women to wait 18 to 72 hours between pre-abortion consultation and the actual procedure. Previous studies have documented that these types of laws reduce abortion. Most of this evidence focuses on laws passed in the 1990s, and there are at least two reasons that the effects of such requirements might be different today than in years past. First, most women have to travel farther to reach their nearest abortion clinic today, because of a large number of clinic closures. Second, it is harder for women to avoid this requirement through interstate travel today than in years past. This situation arises because so many states have similar requirements and because they are clustered geographically. We expect the effects of mandatory delay laws to be larger today due to these two factors, but many other factors likely interact with the effects of the laws. Therefore, a reassessment of waiting period laws is critical to inform policymakers about the impact of such laws in today’s context.

In this study, we examine a 2015 Tennessee law that requires women to receive state-directed counseling and then wait 48 hours before the procedure is provided. Counseling must be provided in person and must take place before the waiting period, thereby necessitating two trips to the facility. The passage of this law creates a natural experiment that allows us to estimate the effects of the mandatory waiting period on abortion rates. We also examine the share of women having abortions in the second trimester, which is more costly for women emotionally and financially and which involves greater health risks.

Using a difference-in-differences approach, we find that the introduction of a mandatory waiting period in Tennessee caused an increase in the share of abortions obtained during the second trimester, completely closing the pre-existing gap between Tennessee and the comparison states. The evidence of an effect of the law on abortion rates is not conclusive. These results imply the mandatory waiting period may not have prevented women from getting an abortion, but then it only caused them to get an abortion in a later stage of pregnancy.