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Abortions in the US rose slightly overall after post-Roe restrictions were put in place, study finds

The total number of abortions provided in the U.S. rose slightly in the 12 months after states began implementing bans on them throughout pregnancy, a new survey finds.

The report out this week from the Society of Family Planning, which advocates for abortion access, shows the number fell to nearly zero in states with the strictest bans — but rose elsewhere, especially in states close to those with the bans. The monthly averages overall from July 2022 through June 2023 were about 200 higher than in May and June 2022.

The changes reflect major shifts after the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2022 handed down its Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling, overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that had made abortion legal nationally. Since last year, most Republican-controlled states have enacted restrictions, while most Democrat-controlled states have extended protections for those from out of state seeking abortion.

“The Dobbs decision turned abortion access in this country upside down,” Alison Norris, a co-chair for the study, known as WeCount, and a professor at The Ohio State University’s College of Public Health, said in a statement. “The fact that abortions increased overall in the past year shows what happens when abortion access is improved, and some previously unmet need for abortion is met.” But she noted that bans make access harder — and sometimes impossible — for some people.

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Meanwhile, an anti-abortion group celebrated that the number of abortions in states with the tightest restrictions declined by nearly 115,000. “WeCount’s report confirms pro-life protections in states are having a positive impact,” Tessa Longbons, a senior researcher for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, said in a statement.

Abortion bans and restrictions are consistently met with court challenges, and judges have put some of them on hold. Currently, laws are being enforced in 14 states that bar abortion throughout pregnancy, with limited exceptions, and two more that ban it after cardiac activity can be detected — usually around six weeks of gestational age and before many women realize they’re pregnant.

In all, abortions provided by clinics, hospitals, medical offices and virtual-only clinics rose by nearly 200 a month nationally from July 2022 through June 2023 compared with May and June 2022. The numbers do not reflect abortion obtained outside the medical system — such as by getting pills from a friend. The data also do not account for seasonal variation in abortion, which tends to happen most often in the spring.

The states with big increases include Illinois, California and New Mexico, where state government is controlled by Democrats. But also among them are Florida and North Carolina, where restrictions have been put into place since the Dobbs ruling. In Florida, abortions are banned after 15 weeks of pregnancy — and it could go to six weeks under a new law that won’t be enforced unless a judge’s ruling clears the way. And in North Carolina, a ban on abortion after 12 weeks kicked in in July. The states still have more legal access than most in the Southeast.

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The researchers pointed to several factors for the numbers rising, including more funding and organization to help women in states with bans travel to those where abortion is legal, an increase in medication abortion through online-only clinics, more capacity in states where abortion remains legal later in pregnancy and possibly less stigma associated with ending pregnancies.

Nationally, the number of abortions has also been rising since 2017.