While the reproductive health policy group estimated that around 465,000 abortions occurred during the first six months of 2020, they estimated that about 511,000 occurred during the same period in 2023. The group’s data only include legal abortions.
The change seems counterintuitive, especially considering that 15 states have outright banned abortion (though Indiana’s ban was not in effect during the period studied) in the 14 months since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. However, there are a few possible explanations for the unexpected uptick in abortions.
According to The Washington Post, in the year following the Supreme Court’s decision overturning the national right to an abortion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, 16 new abortion clinics opened in states where the procedure remained legal. Not only did this help pro-choice states bordering pro-life states absorb traveling patients, but it likely also allowed for additional abortions—such as those from women who live in a state where abortion is legal but had previously lived too far away from an abortion clinic to travel for the procedure.
Access to medication abortion—abortions that are performed in early pregnancy, typically by a woman taking a prescribed medication at home or in a doctor’s office—also expanded following the fall of Roe. Following the Food and Drug Administration’s 2021 decision to permanently allow abortion medication to be prescribed via telemedicine, it became much easier for women—especially those living far away from an abortion clinic or doctor’s office—to obtain abortion medications.
COVID restrictions were likely not a factor in the increase between 2020 and 2023, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded roughly the same number of procedures during 2020 and 2019. (The Guttmacher Institute does not have 2019 data).
While the Guttmacher Institute did not provide 2023 estimates for 14 states that had banned the procedure, abortions unsurprisingly declined in states where it was banned or restricted. And not all women who would have obtained an abortion before Dobbs ended up traveling elsewhere. According to a recent study from Johns Hopkins researchers, Texas’ six-week “heartbeat” ban resulted in nearly 10,000 more live births in the state over an eight-month period.
Notably, the Guttmacher Institute’s data also estimates far more abortions than those calculated by the CDC’s abortion surveillance studies, which recorded just 620,327 abortions during all of 2020. The Guttmacher Institute estimated 930,160, around 50 percent more. However, the CDC’s data doesn’t include California, Maryland, and New Hampshire, which—according to Guttmacher Institute data—performed almost 187,000 abortions in 2020, which would account for around 60 percent of the gap in estimated abortions.
The rest of the difference is likely due to the data-gathering method. While the Guttmacher Institute individually contacts all facilities known to have provided abortions to ask for their number of procedures, the CDC aggregates state-level data.
For pro-life advocates, this new data indicates an uncomfortable truth about post-Roe America. While access to abortion has plummeted in some states, it’s also gotten much easier to obtain one in others, primarily as a direct reaction to state-level bans. This trend seems to have effectively canceled out the impact of recent statewide abortion bans, showing that, as long as abortion remains legal in a significant part of the county, it will be incredibly difficult to prevent women from obtaining one.