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Abortion restrictions may tighten, when many already struggle to access the procedure

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Abortion could be restricted in many states later this year. That's when the Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision that might overturn Roe v. Wade. But for many people seeking this procedure, there are already serious barriers to access. Reporter Katia Riddle accompanied one Idaho family navigating these obstacles.

KATIA RIDDLE, BYLINE: The night before her abortion is a hard one for Mercy Ventura-Gonzales.

MERCY VENTURA-GONZALES: I'm terrified. I'm scared.

RIDDLE: Also, there's guilt, grief, anger with herself. But one thing the 23-year-old is not feeling is doubt. This is the right choice, she says.

VENTURA-GONZALES: I'm already so stressed out and stretched thin.

RIDDLE: Her son Axle is 2 years old.

VENTURA-GONZALES: I don't think I can give that love to another baby right now.

AXLE: (Babbling).

RIDDLE: Axle and his dad tussle on their hotel bed.

CODY SIMMS: Oh, I know.

AXLE: (Babbling).

VENTURA-GONZALES: The family traveled two hours for the abortion to this suburb of Boise called Meridian. It was the closest available appointment to their home in Twin Falls, Idaho. Cody Simms is 27. He says he'd like to be a dad again, but this is not the right time.

SIMMS: Maybe down the road when we're ready.

RIDDLE: Right now it's taking the couple every bit of energy they have to keep their family treading water. They've been together since they met in a homeless shelter in Washington four years ago. They spent many nights sleeping on the street.

VENTURA-GONZALES: We would set up camp in the woods. We would set up camp in the alcove - in the entrance of someone's business.

RIDDLE: Then Ventura-Gonzales got pregnant for the first time. They made a plan and moved to Idaho. It was a turning point. She felt strong.

VENTURA-GONZALES: I knew that I could do it. I knew that I could be there for my son no matter what happened.

RIDDLE: They're working restaurant jobs now, living week to week in motels. Another child could tip their precarious balance. Ventura-Gonzales says this pregnancy feels far different than her first.

VENTURA-GONZALES: I'm not attached, you know? Is it crazy to feel like I know their spirit will come back to someone that can handle them? It's not me, and I'm sorry you chose my body.

RIDDLE: Idaho is one of about two dozen states poised to ban abortions if Roe falls. In that scenario, Ventura-Gonzales would likely have to travel to a clinic in Oregon for this procedure. That's an additional five hours of driving. She predicts the consequences will be dire for patients like herself.

VENTURA-GONZALES: Abortions are not going to stop. They're not going to stop. And people are going to be doing them illegally and in more unsafe ways.

RIDDLE: Do you think if you had to do something like travel to another state, you might consider something like that?

VENTURA-GONZALES: I'm probably crazy enough to, you know?

RIDDLE: It's the morning of the procedure.

AXLE: (Babbling).

RIDDLE: Axle is sitting in his high chair in the hotel dining room. He's refusing a blueberry muffin his mom is offering him. His dad comes in from warming up the car. Time to go.

SIMMS: You want me to grab the backpack?

VENTURA-GONZALES: Sure.

RIDDLE: It's 29 degrees outside and still dark.

SIMMS: There we go.

VENTURA-GONZALES: OK.

RIDDLE: When she arrives at the clinic, a man across the street is holding a sign. Abortion is murder, it reads.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR DOOR SLAMMING)

RIDDLE: The man yells at her when she steps out of the car.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Please change your mind.

RIDDLE: Please change your mind, he shouts.

VENTURA-GONZALES: Part of me wants to go yell back, but I have to be an adult about it.

RIDDLE: Instead, she hugs her son in his car seat. Kids aren't allowed in the clinic.

VENTURA-GONZALES: Goodbye. I miss you, and I love you.

RIDDLE: This whole trip - the car, the hotel, the gas, the abortion itself - costs more than $1,200. It's far too much for the couple, but they received financial assistance from a nonprofit called Northwest Abortion Access Fund.

ARIEL HARD: When we talk about post-Roe, like, I tend to say we're already there.

RIDDLE: Ariel Hard is a volunteer with the organization. They help people arrange travel and pay costs for abortion. She says the two-hour journey that this couple took is short compared to some they help.

HARD: We often have people coming from, like, Utah and Montana and those kinds of places, and they're driving. And that's, you know, 10 hours, 12 hours.

RIDDLE: These long travel distances could double or triple if Roe is overturned, says Rebecca Gibron. She's the CEO of Planned Parenthood for the Northwest region.

REBECCA GIBRON: What is already a troublesome process will become almost insurmountable.

VENTURA-GONZALES: They wanted me to keep that paper just in case anything wrong happened. But...

RIDDLE: After five hours in the waiting room and two hours for the procedure, Ventura-Gonzales is ready to head home.

VENTURA-GONZALES: It feels so good. I feel so - just so relieved.

RIDDLE: She's shaking from the adrenaline and the fatigue of the long day. She takes a seat in the waiting room. It's nearly empty now.

VENTURA-GONZALES: I can take care of my son now, and I can go to work. And I can - I won't have to worry anymore. It's going to be OK. I'm going to be OK.

RIDDLE: After a short rest, Ventura-Gonzales walks outside, where her son and partner are waiting in the rental car. It's a long drive home to Twin Falls. She climbs into the passenger seat and holds a warm compress to her abdomen. Ventura-Gonzales wears a T-shirt that she recently salvaged from a box of free clothes on a sidewalk. On the front are the words, I'm strong; I'm beautiful.

For NPR News, I'm Katia Riddle in Meridian, Idaho. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.