Hey, did you hear the one about how the theocrats banned abortion and ended up with more abortions?
Yeah, yeah, states like South Dakota that implemented abortion bans in response to the Alito Court’s upending of Roe v. Wade last year saw abortions drop. But the October WeCount report from the Society for Family Planning indicates that women ran to the remaining bastions of liberty and non-misogyny for reproductive care:
#WeCount found that states that banned abortion completely or after six weeks had 114,590 fewer abortions from July 2022 to June 2023, compared to baseline data from April and May 2022. The 14 states with total abortion bans during this timeframe had 94,930 fewer clinician-provided abortions, and the three states where six-week bans were in place after Dobbs had a total of 19,660 fewer abortions provided by clinicians.
“The impact of the Dobbs decision is just as devastating as we expected,” said Amber Gavin, vice- president of advocacy and operations, A Woman’s Choice, an independent abortion clinic with locations in Florida and North Carolina. “Clinics are striving to meet the needs of people from within our own state, and we’ve had a huge influx of people traveling from out of state to get abortion care. With new restrictions in North Carolina and a potential six-week ban looming in Florida, I’m not sure where all the people seeking abortion care in the Southeast will turn.”
#WeCount found that states where abortion remained legal beyond six weeks had a total of 116,790 more abortions compared to baseline data from April and May 2022. States with the largest increases include Illinois (21,500), Florida (20,460), North Carolina (11,830), California (8,810), and New Mexico (8,640). Many of these states border states with abortion bans and serve as access points for people who travel from other states to obtain care.
“Every month, the Chicago Abortion Fund assists over 500 people within Illinois and another 500 traveling to clinics outside our state. That’s over 12,000 people a year faced with a system that is failing them,” said Megan Jeyifo, Executive Director of the Chicago Abortion Fund. “While we’re committed to filling the gaps, let’s be clear: this is a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. It’s unacceptable that in 2023, people are having to cross state lines, navigate logistical nightmares, and incur high costs to access basic healthcare. At the Chicago Abortion Fund, we offer comprehensive support—from covering travel and childcare expenses to meal stipends and appointment costs—but what we really need is systemic change. We challenge policymakers to step up and address this crisis at its root. We won’t rest until everyone has access to the affirming, affordable abortion care they deserve, right in their own community” [Society for Family Planning, press release, 2023.10.24].
Of course, not everyone can afford to travel to a real Freedom state for health care. And as usual, the impacts of state restrictions on access to health care fall most heavily on people who are already having a tough life:
Distance to care is also one of the biggest barriers, and prior research suggests that even an increase of 100 miles to abortion care can lead to increased birth rates. Those unable to overcome travel barriers are likely those with the fewest socioeconomic resources; even small declines in the abortion rate still translate into enormous life impacts for those affected. Highly vulnerable groups who are often unable to travel include: young people, incarcerated people, people on parole with travel limitations, and immigrants. Additionally, people who care for small children or the elderly and those who cannot take time off of work may find it impossible to travel out of state for abortion care. The COVID-19 pandemic and the current economy put people in an even more precarious financial situation, further limiting the number of people who have the money to pay for a substantial unexpected healthcare expense.
Substantial research has documented grave consequences of not being able to obtain a wanted abortion that persist for years. Compared to people who receive desired abortions, those who seek but are unable to obtain a desired abortion experience a variety of negative outcomes, including increased economic insecurity, poorer physical health, and continued exposure to violence from the man involved in the pregnancy [Society of Family Planning, #WeCount Report: April 2022 to June 2023, 2023.10.24].
Between 2021 and 2022, infant deaths in the U.S. rose by 3 percent. or 5.6 fatalities per 1,000 live births. The mortality rate for newborns also increased by 3 percent, while the mortality rate for non-newborn infants rose by 4 percent. The CDC noted this goes against a nearly 20-year trend.
“The infant mortality rate for the United States rose 3% from 2021 to 2022, the first year-to-year increase in the rate since 2001 to 2002,” the agency’s report stated. “From 2002 to 2021, the infant mortality rate declined 22%.
The mortality rate among infants born to American Indian and Alaska Native non-Hispanic and White non-Hispanic mothers rose significantly more than the overall change, the CDC noted in its report. The changes in mortality rates observed among infants born to Black; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; Hispanic; and Asian mothers were not statistically significant [Joseph Choi, “Infant Mortality Rate Rises for the First Time in 20 Years: CDC,” The Hill, 2023.11.01].
South Dakota’s infant mortality rose 28%, from 6.07 per 1,000 live births in 2021 to 7.77 in 2022. Only Mississippi had a higher infant mortality rate, 9.11. At the same time, Minnesota managed to reduce its infant mortality rate 7%, from 4.83 to 4.50.