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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Legal abortions fell around 6% in two months after end of Roe

A volunteer with Midwest Access Coalition driving from St. Louis over the state border to Illinois this summer. Abortion is now banned in Missouri, but volunteers help drive women across the Mississippi River to Illinois, where it remains legal.

By Margot Sanger-Katz and Claire Cain Miller

In the first two months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, legal abortions nationwide declined by more than 10,000, a drop of about 6%, according to the first attempt at a nationwide count of abortions since the decision.

Thirteen states banned or severely restricted abortion during those months, mostly in the South, and legal abortions in those states fell to close to zero, according to detailed estimates made by a consortium of academics and abortion providers. Nine more states added major abortion restrictions, and legal abortions in those states fell by one-third. In states with bans and restrictions, there were about 22,000 fewer abortions in July and August, compared with the baseline of April, before the decision.

In states where abortion remained legal, the number of abortions increased by roughly 12,000, or 11%. That suggests that around half of women who were unable to get abortions in states with bans traveled to another state to get one.

But even with those increases, thousands of abortions appear to have been prevented by the new state laws.

Dr. Alison Norris, a professor of epidemiology at Ohio State and a co-author of the report, called the decline “a shock to the system.”

The data comes from a new organization called WeCount, which is led by the Society of Family Planning, a group that supports abortion rights. It is collecting abortion data from clinics, hospitals and telemedicine providers across the United States. It obtained detailed abortion counts from 79% of the nation’s abortion providers, which were responsible for 82% of all abortions before the court’s Dobbs decision. Researchers used adjustments based on state data and time trends to estimate the missing data.

The total decrease in abortions is likely to be lower than the cited estimate because the data does not include abortions outside the regulated U.S. health system, including so-called self-managed abortions that do not involve a medical provider. A growing number of women have been ordering abortion pills online from overseas providers or obtaining them from Mexico, where a pill that can end a pregnancy early in gestation is available over the counter as an ulcer medicine. Some women might also have turned to herbs or other methods to end pregnancies.

“We are celebrating the fact that at least 10,000 babies have a chance at life,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of the anti-abortion group Students for Life.

“It’s a sign of course correction and of ordinary Americans finally having a say in how many lives are tragically lost to the tragedy of abortion,” she said.

Detailed information about how many abortions are performed in the United States has typically taken years to collect and publish. WeCount was created to provide more real-time data from a more comprehensive group of providers.

Because the WeCount data is new, it cannot compare abortion numbers from this past summer to those from the summer of 2021. Studies suggest that abortion typically follows a seasonal pattern, peaking in February and March before declining in summer months. Some of the measured decline may also reflect such trends.

The changes were calculated by comparing the number of legal abortions in the months after the decision with the number of abortions provided in April. At that time, Texas had already imposed a major abortion restriction, and an abortion was difficult to get in other states, but it was still legal in all 50 states.

WeCount also found that abortions nationwide increased in the two-month period after the draft of the Supreme Court decision was leaked but before Roe was overturned, perhaps indicating that some women were seeking abortions earlier in pregnancy than they might have otherwise, or that clinics were expanding capacity in preparation for bans.

Studies of previous abortion restrictions have shown that although some women without access to a nearby clinic travel long distances to obtain abortions, many do not. The typical abortion patient is poor, unmarried and a mother. And the women who are most affected by bans are those who struggle with the cost and logistical challenges of interstate travel, including transportation, lodging, child care and time off work.

“Some of these states where abortion was banned — Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, for example — are some of the poorest states in our country, and people would have to cross multiple state lines to get to another state where abortion remains legal,” said Kari White, who studies reproductive health at the University of Texas at Austin and is on WeCount’s research committee. “Even for the people who make it to another state, this is a hardship.”

Since the Supreme Court ruling, a growing network of nonprofit groups has raised money to help women seeking abortion with travel and logistical costs. The WeCount data suggests that, even with these efforts, many women who might have had abortions if they were available nearby did not obtain them in other states.

The state with the largest decline in legal abortions was Texas — there were 2,770 abortions in April, and by August, there were fewer than a dozen. Texas, the second-most populous state, moved quickly to ban abortion after the court ruling. Abortions in the state had already been limited by an earlier state law prohibiting them after around six weeks, when fetal cardiac activity can be first detected.

Before the decision overturning Roe, many Texas women found another way to obtain an abortion, either through travel — nearly half went to Oklahoma — or by ordering pills from another country online. But since June, Oklahoma and other neighboring states have also banned abortions. The nearest states for Texans seeking abortions are New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado — in many cases requiring drives of 10 hours or more.

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