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New Survey Finds Abortions Increased Slightly in 2023, Despite Widespread Bans

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A sign is held at an abortion pill protest | Sue Dorfman/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom

According to new research, about 8,000 women per month obtained abortion pills in late 2023, despite living in states that have bans or severe restrictions on telemedicine abortion or abortion access. The survey also found that the abortion rate in 2023 was slightly higher than in 2022, despite total abortion bans in more than a dozen states.

“The number of abortions in the United States remained consistently elevated compared to pre-Dobbs levels, even as 14 states have banned abortion completely,” reads a Tuesday press release. “This elevated volume of abortion may be due in part to the expansion of telehealth abortion care, which made up 19% of all abortion care nationwide by December 2023.”

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, a rash of states jumped to ban abortion entirely or place severe restrictions on the practice. Nearly two years later, 14 states have completely banned abortion, and three more have banned it after six weeks into the pregnancy.

However, research has indicated that the total number of U.S. abortions didn’t necessarily go down following Roe‘s overturn. In the one survey released Tuesday by the abortion-rights group Society of Family Planning, the total number of abortions seemed to increase modestly in 2023 when compared to the year before.

The survey, called #WeCount, found that in 2022, there were around 82,000 abortions per month. In 2023, the rate had gone up to 86,000—even after excluding a bump in abortion numbers coming from women who obtained otherwise illegal telemedicine abortions under abortion-provider-protecting “shield laws.”

Further, the survey found that by December 2023, almost one in five U.S. abortions are provided through telehealth. Surprisingly, around half of these abortions occurred in states where telehealth abortion is otherwise illegal or severely restricted. While the survey found that around 17,000 women per month from October to December 2023 were prescribed abortion pills by telehealth, 8,000 of these prescriptions went to women who lived in states where telehealth abortion is banned.

How is this possible? The researchers suggest that the introduction of shield laws in a handful of states played a major role. So far, five states have passed laws protecting medical providers from possible prosecution for helping women obtain medication abortions that are illegal in another state. The shield laws prohibit officials from cooperating with investigations or prosecutions related to such abortions. 

This led to a noted uptick in #WeCount’s numbers. “Part of the increase in 2023 is due to abortions being provided under shield laws, starting in July 2023, and #WeCount’s subsequent inclusion of these abortions,” the report states. “These abortions may have previously occurred outside the formal healthcare system prior to the use of shield laws.”

This latest research shows just how difficult it is to truly ban abortion as long as telehealth prescriptions for abortion pills remain readily available. Since the end of Roe, not only have women seeking to end their pregnancies frequently traveled out of state for abortion procedures, but they’ve also been able to get abortion pills delivered to their door. However, even the Society of Family Planning admits they can’t accurately estimate all abortions in the United States.

“Providers in the formal healthcare system, including those protected by shield laws, are not the only source of abortion medications,” reads Tuesday’s report. “We are unable to estimate the number of abortions that occurred outside clinician-provided care, including those provided by online stores that sell abortion medications, volunteer accompaniment networks, and other types of self-managed abortion.” 

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