Nov 22, 2023 - Health

Abortions rose 5% in year before Roe was overturned: CDC

Reported U.S. abortion rate, 2012 to 2021
Data: CDC; Note: Excludes California, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Hampshire, and New Jersey; Chart: Axios Visuals

The number of abortions in the U.S. increased 5% the year before Roe v. Wade was overturned, with women in their 20s accounting for nearly 6 in 10 of the procedures, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The 2021 data from CDC's annual abortion incidence report track with earlier research showing demand for abortions was trending upward before the Supreme Court struck down federal protection of the procedure.

  • 53% of procedures that year were medication abortions — and use of abortion pills at or before nine weeks of gestation rose 3% from 2020 to 2021.

By the numbers: In 2021, 625,978 legal induced abortions were reported to the CDC. The total number and the abortion rate — defined as the number of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 — each rose 5%.

  • As in previous years, the CDC found women in their 20s accounted for more than half of abortions (57%).
  • Nearly all the procedures in 2021 took place early in gestation, with 93.5% performed at or before 13 weeks and 5.7% done 14 to 20 weeks into a pregnancy. Just 0.9% were performed at or after 21 weeks.
  • The overall number of abortions performed over 10 years ending in 2021 declined 8%, and the rate decreased 11%.

The big picture: 2021 was a pivotal year during which Texas enacted a six-week abortion ban that led to an immediate drop-off in abortions performed in clinics there and more requests for abortion pills online. Patients also were motivated to travel to neighboring states to obtain the procedure.

  • The Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe in June 2022 led more than a dozen states to adopt new abortion bans or revive long-dormant restrictions.
  • Anti-abortion forces since the decision have also challenged the Food and Drug Administration's approval of the widely used abortion pill mifepristone, in a case that's likely to reach the Supreme Court and could dramatically curtail access to the drug.

Between the lines: The CDC report likely understates the actual number of procedures performed, according to experts, because it compiled information from 47 state health departments that voluntarily partner with the agency to collect statistics.

  • California, Maryland and New Hampshire don't report data, and in some other states the reporting is incomplete.
  • The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights research organization that surveys abortion providers, estimates the three states accounted for 20% of the procedures in the U.S. in 2020 and that the annual CDC reports capture only 70% of the abortions counted by Guttmacher.
  • Guttmacher estimates abortions increased 8% between 2017 and 2020.
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