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Abortions in U.S. rose in 2020, ending decades-long decline, report says

A survey by a group supporting abortion rights showed an 8 percent increase over 2017

Americans on both sides of the abortion divide protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court last month in response to the leaked draft of an opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade. (AP)

The number of abortions in the United States rose in 2020, ending a 30-year decline, according to a new report from a research and advocacy group that favors abortion rights.

The Guttmacher Institute, which surveys abortion providers every three years, said the number of abortions increased 8 percent in 2020 from 2017, to an estimated total of 930,160. It concluded that about 1 in 5 pregnancies ended in abortion in 2020.

The report was released as a deeply divided public awaits a ruling from the Supreme Court that could overturn the 50-year-old legal right to abortion established by its decision in Roe v. Wade. A draft of the court’s impending ruling that leaked last month appeared to show that a majority of the nine justices favor upending Roe.

A number of states already have passed, or are considering, highly restrictive abortion laws in anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling, which could come as soon as this month.

Guttmacher’s survey data is not comprehensive, but its conclusion is similar to one from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which reported in November that abortions ticked up 2 percent in 2019, to a total of 625,346. The agency’s numbers are lower than Guttmacher’s partly because they do not include data from California, New Hampshire and Maryland.

The CDC identified the end of a seven-year decline in abortions a year earlier, in 2018, when the number of abortions rose by about 5,700 over the previous year.

The Guttmacher report said its new data highlights “that the need for abortion care in the United States is growing, just as the U.S. Supreme Court appears likely to overturn or gut Roe v. Wade.”

“An increase in abortion numbers is a positive development if it means people are getting the health care they want and need,” the report stated. “Rather than focusing on reducing abortion, policies should instead center the needs of people and protect their right to bodily autonomy.”

But Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, an advocacy group dedicated to “ending abortion,” interpreted the rise in abortions as evidence “the Biden administration and Democrats in Washington push abortion on demand until birth, paid for by taxpayers — including dangerous mail-order abortion drugs.”

Dannenfelser said in a statement that some governors contributed to the increase by making their states “safe havens for the abortion industry.”

Guttmacher found the rise in abortions was largest in the West, which saw a 12 percent increase, and the Midwest, where it increased by 10 percent, followed by the South, at 8 percent, and the Northeast, at 2 percent.

But the institute also highlighted wide state variations: Illinois, Mississippi and Oklahoma saw “substantial increases” in abortions over the previous three years, while Missouri, Oregon and South Dakota had many fewer.

Missouri, which added restrictions in recent years, experienced a stunning decline in abortions, from 4,710 in 2017 to just 170 in 2020, the data show, with Illinois’ abortions surging 25 percent, in part because Missouri residents received abortions there.

The report counted both medical and surgical abortions that took place at clinics and in doctor’s offices. Abortions that were self-managed with medication purchased on the internet were not included.

It said the abortion rate for women and girls ages 15 to 44 increased from 13.5 per 1,000 in 2017 to 14.4 per 1,000 in 2020, a 7 percent jump.

Guttmacher attributed the increase to a variety of factors, including some states’ expansion of Medicaid coverage for abortion. “The majority of people who obtain an abortion are poor or low income, and this coverage meant that many who would not otherwise have been able to afford an abortion could get care,” according to the report.

Other funds that pay for abortion also increased their capacity, the group said.

It also blamed the Trump administration for cutting support for free and low-cost contraception, a move that “may have resulted in more unintended pregnancies and greater need for abortion care.”

Rachel Jones, principal research scientist for the group, said “the increase was bigger than we anticipated” and occurred at the same time U.S. births fell 6 percent, though it is unclear why.