The number and rate of abortions in the United States rose from 2017 to 2020 after a long decline, figures released Wednesday showed.
The report by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, counted more than 930,000 abortions in the United States in 2020. That’s about 862,000 abortions in 2017, when national abortion figures hit their lowest point since the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized the procedure nationwide.
About one in five pregnancies ended in abortion in 2020, according to the report, which comes as the Supreme Court appears set to overturn the ruling.
The number of women getting abortions illustrates a need and “highlights how devastating a Supreme Court ruling is going to be for access to an absolutely vital service,” said Sara Rosenbaum, professor of health law and policy. at George Washington University.
Medical abortions, the combination of two drugs sometimes called the “abortion pill,” accounted for 54% of abortions in the United States in 2020, the first time it accounted for more than half of abortions, Guttmacher said.
The COVID-19 pandemic may have lowered the numbers in some states, the report said. In New York, abortions increased from 2017 to 2019, then fell by 6% between 2019 and 2020. One in 10 clinics in New York suspended or stopped abortion care in 2020.
Texas saw a 2% decline between 2019 and 2020, coinciding with pandemic-related abortion restrictions in the state.
If the Supreme Court’s leaked draft opinion quashing Roe v. Wade takes effect, it could also lead to tougher state restrictions on birth control, says Seema Mohapatra, a law professor at Southern Methodist University.
Elsewhere, the pandemic may have limited access to contraception, some experts said, or discouraged women from undertaking all the health care visits involved in a pregnancy.
Yet abortions were already skyrocketing before the coronavirus upended people’s lives. One contributing factor: Some states have expanded Medicaid access to abortion.
Illinois, for example, began allowing public Medicaid funds to pay for abortions beginning in January 2018. The state saw abortions increase by 25% between 2017 and 2020.
In neighboring Missouri, abortions dropped significantly, but the number of Missouri residents traveling to Illinois for abortions rose to more than 6,500.
“If states are paying for abortions, I hope they also look at how to support childbirth, so a woman doesn’t think abortion is the best or only option,” said Carol Tobias, president. of the National Committee for the Right to Life, which opposes Abortion.
During a Senate committee hearing on Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen was asked about the potential impact of an abortion ban on the US economy.
Guttmacher conducts the nation’s most comprehensive survey of abortion providers every three years. The tally is considered more comprehensive than data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which omits several states, including California, the nation’s most populous state.
In 2020, fewer women became pregnant and a greater proportion of them chose abortion, the researchers found. There were 3.6 million births, a drop since 2017.
The abortion rate in 2020 was 14.4 per 1,000 women aged 15-44, compared to 13.5 per 1,000 women in 2017.
Abortions increased 12% in the West, 10% in the Midwest, 8% in the South and 2% in the Northeast.