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With Roe on the precipice, Americans are having more abortions

New data from the Guttmacher Institute shows the number of U.S. abortions rose in 2020, reversing a decades-long trend toward declining numbers. Pictured here is a Planned Parenthood center in 2018 in Chicago, Illinois — a state whose increase in abortion was partly due to patients crossing the border from Missouri, which has more abortion restrictions.
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New data from the Guttmacher Institute shows the number of U.S. abortions rose in 2020, reversing a decades-long trend toward declining numbers. Pictured here is a Planned Parenthood center in 2018 in Chicago, Illinois — a state whose increase in abortion was partly due to patients crossing the border from Missouri, which has more abortion restrictions.

The number of patients seeking abortions in the U.S. rose in 2020, reversing some 30 years of decline in the number of abortions.

That finding, in a report released by the Guttmacher Institute on Wednesday, comes as the Supreme Court appears poised to overturn decades of precedent guaranteeing abortion rights.

The number of abortions recorded by Guttmacher's Abortion Provider Census rose to 930,160 in 2020, an 8% increase compared with 2017, the last time the data was collected.

"The long-term decline in abortion is over, and the number of abortions in the United States is actually increasing," said Rachel K. Jones, a research scientist who co-authored an analysis of the data for Guttmacher, a research group that supports abortion rights.

The report lists several potential factors that may have contributed to the increase, including increased abortion access in some states through Medicaid expansion or the growth of abortion funds that help low-income people cover the costs of obtaining an abortion.

The report also notes that the Trump administration's overhaul of the federal Title X family planning program in 2019 prompted some health centers to withdraw, which resulted in fewer patients receiving contraception through the program.

The increase in abortions took place nationwide, with the largest uptick in the West and Midwest. But at the state level, the numbers varied widely depending on local circumstances. For example, as a growing number of abortion restrictions in Missouri prompted more patients to cross state borders for care, neighboring Illinois — a state with far fewer such laws — saw a 25% increase in abortions between 2017 and 2020.

If the Supreme Court overturns the existing abortion-rights precedent, Jones predicts a decline in the abortion rate, as some patients in states with restrictive laws will be unable to travel to obtain an abortion.

"The need for abortion is growing at a time when the Supreme Court is getting ready to strike down Roe v. Wade," Jones said.

From 2017 to 2020, the birth rate fell 6%. Jones said that this indicates that fewer people were getting pregnant overall and that of those who did, more were seeking to end their pregnancies through abortion.

In response to the report, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, a group opposed to abortion rights, issued a statement noting that the numbers had risen in states with less restrictive abortion laws.

"Leading Democrats used to say abortion should be 'safe, legal and rare.' Now... governors in states like California and New York seek to make their states 'sanctuaries' and 'safe havens' for the abortion industry," SBA Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in the statement.

Dannenfelser noted that many polls indicate most Americans favor some limitations on abortion. A majority also oppose overturning Roe.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.

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