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Legal abortions rose in the first year after Dobbs. Expanded out-of-state access and virtual care played a role

After weeks of legal back and forth, Kentucky reinstated its abortion ban in August. Abortion bans in several Midwest states are on hold due to legal challenges.
Ryan Van Velzer
/
WFPL
After weeks of legal back and forth, Kentucky reinstated its abortion ban in August. Abortion bans in several Midwest states are on hold due to legal challenges.

The number of legal abortions increased nationwide, a year after the U.S. Supreme Court ended the constitutional right to abortion. That’s despite many states implementing total abortion bans or restricting access to abortion at six weeks.

The Society of Family Planning’s latest WeCount report found there were nearly 117,000 more legal abortions in the year after Dobbs in the 35 states where abortion remains legal. The 14 states with total or six-week abortion bans saw almost 115,00 fewer legal abortions.

The report tracked abortions performed in hospitals, clinics, private medical offices and virtual-only clinics in the U.S. for a full year, from July 2022 to June 2023.

Researchers suggest that the slight increase in abortions is due to expanded telemedicine abortion services and the availability of more assistance for people seeking out of state abortions.

In states that passed total abortion bans, like Wisconsin and Missouri, legal abortions dropped to zero. The WeCount report does not track abortions that happen outside of the health care system, where people either cross the border to seek care or self-manage their abortions using pills they order online from overseas pharmacies. Some data suggests that requests for pills online increased after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision decision.

In states like Illinois and Kansas, which are surrounded by states with bans, there were big increases in the number of legal abortions. Illinois saw the largest increase in abortions in the year after the Dobbs decision, with 21,5000 more abortions. According to the WeCount report, Illinois served as an access point for people who traveled from other states to receive care. Kansas saw 5,340 more abortions over the same time period.

In states where abortion is legal, many facilities also expanded their capacity and new clinics have opened including in Illinois and Kansas. Several facilities now offer telehealth services or virtual clinics — which provide remote abortion care at lower prices.

The report shows a significant increase in the abortions provided by virtual-only clinics. The number of these abortions increased from a monthly average of 4,045 abortions before the Dobbs decision to an average of 6,950 abortions a year later. These abortions now make up more than 8% of all abortions nationwide.

Several states have passed new laws to expand abortion access and protect providers, including policies that require insurance coverage of abortion and laws that help fund abortion care for out of state residents.

Each month, the Chicago Abortion Fund assists over 500 people within Illinois and another 500 traveling to clinics from other states, said Megan Jeyifo, executive director of the Chicago, in a news release.

She said the organization offers support for those seeking abortions like covering travel and childcare expenses, meal stipends and appointment costs. But Jeyifo said the services offered are not a sustainable fix.

“While we are committed to filling the gaps, let’s be clear: This is a Band-Aid on a gaping wound,” Jeyifo said. She said a systemic change is needed and the organization challenges policymakers to address the crisis.

Although abortion was still legal in Indiana until August 2023, the state still saw a decrease in abortions in the year after the Dobbs decision. The state had passed a near total abortion ban in August 2022, it went into effect for one week in September, but was ultimately put on hold for nearly a year as the law’s constitutionality was challenged in state courts. About a fifth of people receiving abortions in Indiana in 2022 came from people out of state, mostly from Kentucky, where a near total ban has been in effect since August 2022.

Ohio had an abortion ban in place for the first two months post Dobbs, but abortion is now legal under 22 weeks of pregnancy. Still, the state saw 5,120 fewer abortions in the year since the Dobbs decision.

The Ohio Supreme Court is now in the midst of deciding the legality of a ban on abortions after six weeks –– before many women learn they are pregnant. The court could reinstate the ban just weeks before voters decide whether to enshrine abortion rights into the constitution on Nov. 7.

Some states like Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota and North Dakota where abortion has been banned saw a dramatic decrease. The average abortions provided each month was in the single digits reaching as low as one in Missouri and zero in South Dakota.

The Society of Family Planning will continue to track abortions through 2024.

Ideastream Public Media's Taylor Wizner contributed reporting.

Contact reporter Darian Benson at [email protected].

Side Effects Public Media is a health reporting collaboration based at WFYI in Indianapolis. We partner with NPR stations across the Midwest and surrounding areas — including KBIA and KCUR in Missouri, Iowa Public Radio, Ideastream in Ohio, WFPL in Kentucky and KOSU in Oklahoma.

Darian Benson is a reporter based at WFYI in Indianapolis. An Indy native, she is eager to report on public health in her hometown. Darian graduated with a journalism degree from Indiana Unviersity- Purdue University Indianapolis. Previously, she covered city and public policy for WFYI and statewide public health for Indiana Public Broadcasting.
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