May 8, 2023 - News

Abortions shift west as Idaho cracks down

Data: #WeCount/Society of Family Planning; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: #WeCount/Society of Family Planning; Chart: Axios Visuals

Recent data suggests that abortion providers in Oregon and Washington are seeing an increasing number of patients from Idaho who go out of state for abortions because they can no longer receive services at home.

Why it matters: Those numbers could change, as Idaho has moved to criminalize some travel for abortions.

Driving the news: Idaho's governor signed a new law last month making it a crime to help a minor travel or get pills for an abortion without parental permission.

  • Abortion providers also sued over a different Idaho law that can punish doctors for referring patients to an out-of-state clinic or pharmacy.

Separately, some OB-GYN physicians are now leaving Idaho, citing the broad and punitive abortion bans.

  • The only labor and delivery ward in Sandpoint, a city of 9,000 people, is closing, meaning patients will have to travel an extra hour for care.
  • Hospital officials blamed dropping birth rates and the departure of too many "highly respected, talented physicians."

What they found: Before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last June, health care providers in Idaho performed about 170 abortions a month, according to research by the Society of Family Planning. By September, the number had dropped to essentially zero as the state began enforcing one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the country.

  • In Oregon, meanwhile, the number of abortions performed rose starting in June, and between August and December reached an average of 152 a month more than in April.
  • In Washington, the uptick was around 170 a month over the same time period.

What they did: Researchers contacted abortion providers directly, drawing on a range of lists and networks, to get abortion numbers, including pills prescribed. In some cases, they filled in holes with estimates, but not here.

  • "For Oregon, we have 100% of the clinics represented," Ushma Upadhyay, a professor at the UCSF School of Medicine and co-chair of the research project steering committee, told Axios. "We feel very good about the Oregon numbers."

Of note: Data from the Oregon Health Authority differs, although the 2022 numbers are "still preliminary and subject to change," an OHA spokesperson told Axios in an email.

Zoom in: Last week, Oregon's House of Representatives passed a bill that would ban Oregon court clerks from issuing subpoenas if another state sought to pursue charges against abortion providers here.

  • It would also expand abortion services to rural parts of the state, which could include Oregon towns near the Idaho border.

Zoom out: Washington's governor recently signed a similar bill aiming to protect doctors and abortion patients.

  • In California, a proposed law would go beyond shielding doctors and allow abortion providers there to sue people who tried to stop their work.

Meanwhile, at least a dozen states are going in the opposite direction, penalizing doctors or others who violate new abortion bans with jail time and other punishments.

What's next: The Society of Family Planning plans to issue its next report this summer.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect that in 2022 the average number of abortions in Washington was 170 a month more between August and December than it was in April (not 200 a month more over a longer period).


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