In the first six months of this year, new data estimates show the number of legal abortions increased significantly in states that were either close to or bordering those with abortion bans or strict limitations.
The data from the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research group, gives a clear picture of where people are seeking abortions in the U.S.
The group’s dashboard compares the first six months of 2023 to a similar period in 2020. It shows that as more states cracked down, women who lived in those states and needed abortions had to travel elsewhere.
More than a dozen states have either banned or severely restricted abortions in the wake of the Dobbs decision last year that overturned Roe v. Wade.
Abortions increased in every state that protected and expanded access to the procedure. But it was most pronounced in ones such as New Mexico, Colorado, Washington, Illinois and South Carolina, which became unofficial abortion havens due to their proximity to states with bans.
In Illinois, for example, there were 18,300 more abortions in the first half of this year compared to 2020, a 69 percent increase.
After Roe v. Wade was overturned, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) said the Illinois “would remain a beacon of hope and an island for reproductive justice for all who seek it.”
South Carolina saw 3,270 more abortions compared to 2020, a 124 percent increase, as almost every other southern state had an abortion ban. State Republicans there, however, adopted a six-week abortion ban that took effect last month.
The report will be updated monthly, so newer policies such as North Carolina’s 12-week ban will be reflected in the next version, and then subsequent bans like South Carolina and Indiana’s in later updates.
New Mexico saw almost 6,500 more abortions compared to 2020, a jump of 220 percent. The increase was likely driven by travel from bordering states including Texas.
“We can say pretty confidently that a lot of the increase is driven by travel from ban states,” said Isaac Maddow-Zimet, a data scientist at the Guttmacher Institute and the lead researcher on the report.
“I would say the scale of it is … striking. You know, it represents real people who have to travel to seek care. That travel often implies significant financial costs. It often implies significant logistical costs. And not everybody is going to be able to bear those costs,” he said.
But the larger picture of abortion in the U.S. is more complicated. Abortion had been increasing since 2019 and likely into 2021, and it’s unclear how much that would have continued if the Supreme Court left Roe intact.
The COVID-19 pandemic and related policies that expanded telehealth, also likely contributed to how state abortion numbers have changed, Maddow-Zimet said.
The data comes from a survey of abortion providers, including hospitals, physician offices and clinics that provide telemedicine. But it doesn’t include people who self-manage abortion.
It also doesn’t track abortions that were denied in states with strict bans, or women who couldn’t leave and so were unable to obtain one.
Yet as some GOP-led states consider efforts to crack down on out-of-state travel, and as people need to travel even further for their medical care, Maddow-Zimet said there’s a real concern about what the impact will be.
“We might be living in a moment where people are getting relatively more support in terms of being able to shoulder this travel. And I want to be clear, many people are not able to obtain enough support and will not be able to travel,” he said.
“You know, a lot of the states that have banned abortion or severely restricted it are contiguous and as that burden gets greater and greater that obstacle becomes harder and harder to overcome. And I think we don’t know exactly what will happen as access gets more restricted.”
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