An analysis of new estimates reveals that the number of abortions rates in the United States in the first half of the year likely increased compared to 2020 as patients travelled to states with more lenient abortion laws from those with bans and the availability of abortion pills through telemedicine grew.
Since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling last year changed access to abortion worldwide and permitted more than a dozen states to prohibit or restrict the practise, new research from the Guttmacher Institute provides the most recent perspective on legal abortions rates. In response to restrictions at home, the data indicates that hundreds of women have travelled across state lines to have an abortion. Additionally, it shows a surge in abortions rates among residents of states where the procedure is permitted.
“You have two forces at work,” said Caitlin Myers, an economist at Middlebury College who read the Guttmacher paper. “On the one hand, you have people trapped in ban states, and on the other, you have people in a whole lot of the country where access has improved.”
A examination of Guttmacher’s data reveals that in the first half of 2023, there were around 511,000 abortions believed to have taken place in places where the operation was legal, as opposed to approximately 465,000 abortions nationally in the same period of time in 2020.
Abortions rates increased almost everywhere where the operation is still legal, but the trend was more pronounced in states that border countries that outlaw abortion completely. Many of these states relaxed their restrictions on abortion, and doctors created additional facilities to accommodate patients travelling from other states. Abortions rates increased by an estimated 69 percent in Illinois, for instance, where it is legal to have an abortion, from 26,000 to roughly 45,000 in 2023.
The expected number of abortions rates increased in states with stricter neighbours like South Carolina, Colorado, Kansas, and New Mexico. Contrarily, states like Arizona, Georgia, and Indiana moved to restrict abortion, and all three saw declines in their estimates. Georgia and Arizona have gestational restrictions, and Indiana recently approved a complete prohibition.
Researchers emphasised that just because there have been more abortions so far in 2023, it does not follow that state limits on access have had no effect.
“Travel doesn’t come without a cost,” said Isaac Maddow-Zimet, a data scientist at the Guttmacher Institute and the report’s primary researcher. “Just because someone gets an abortion doesn’t mean the procedure was simple. We are aware that some people are unable to leave their state.
There are currently no estimates on the number of women who were refused or were unable to obtain abortions. The majority of states’ increases could potentially hide the number of abortions that the restrictions have stopped.
Dr. Myers stated that “abortions had started increasing before Dobbs and they may have continued to rise even more steeply than observed if the bans weren’t in place.”
The research from the Guttmacher Institute is based on a survey of real-world and online abortion facilities. The institute, which is pro-abortion rights, uses a sample rather than contacting every clinic in every state to calculate abortions rates.
The report does not include abortions obtained outside of the official healthcare system, such as by the mailing of pills into states where abortion is prohibited from other nations or from states where it is permitted. According to other data, a large number of people, particularly those residing in states where abortion is prohibited, have purchased abortion pills online from other countries.
Abortions were most common in populous states like California, Florida, Illinois, and New York. The researchers indicated a range of uncertainty in their counts because they used a statistical model, and there was more uncertainty in states with more abortion providers. In the first half of the year, no data were gathered from the 14 states that had abortion restrictions in place.
The most recent year of their yearly provider survey and the final year before significant abortion restrictions went into force was 2020, with which the researchers compared this year’s data. (Texas banned abortions after six weeks in 2021, prior to the Dobbs ruling.) That year, abortions began to increase, reversing a decades-long trend.
The findings may also reflect the results of other policy changes in recent years, such as the Biden administration’s choice to permit telemedicine abortions during the pandemic, as well as other pandemic effects that are still unknown.
The monthly estimates at the state level are consistent with WeCount’s (another organisation that conducts provider surveys) reporting of abortion statistics for the months of January through March of this year. Both studies reveal considerable increases in abortions rates in states without abortion restrictions, a development that lawmakers and pro-life activists are closely monitoring.
According to Katie Daniel, the state policy director for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, “there is a perception among legislators that we’ve passed strong laws here but our neighbours in Colorado or Illinois are allowing these businesses to pop up on our border.”
Researchers warn that additional research is need to more accurately examine the effects of both abortion laws and the expansion in the availability of abortion pills through telemedicine and underground networks. As more limits come into force later this year, the situation is anticipated to change. Before Indiana, North Carolina, and South Carolina’s legislatures approved abortion bans and limitations, Guttmacher researchers gathered data on the procedure.