Abortions Were Rising Before Dobbs. The Battle to Lower Them Will Be Fought in the States.
In the aftermath of the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade, which once again allowed state legislatures and Congress to pass laws protecting life, several states have had laws go into effect protecting life at conception. As more and more states move to protect life in the womb in its earliest stages, it is important to see what kind of impact laws outlawing abortion will have on reducing abortions.
In the week leading up to this monumental court decision, the Guttmacher Institute, Planned Parenthood’s affiliate research organization, released their most recent abortion statistics from 2017 to 2020. Historically, numbers reported from Guttmacher have shown that the abortion rate has been in overall decline since the early 90s. Tragically, the new figures reported last week indicate that beginning in 2017, abortion in the United States is back on the rise. There are many factors and causes which can help explain this increase in abortions in the United States and what that means now that states have the ability to protect life in the womb.
One of the main impacts on the new abortion numbers that cannot totally be accounted for is the impact that COVID-19 played on abortion rates in 2020. The worldwide pandemic caused certain pro-life states to shut down abortion facilities altogether, and at the same time unknown health risks and economic turmoil may have led other women to choose abortion at a higher rate.
Additionally, access to chemical abortion became easier during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the summer of 2020, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had to suspend the policy that required the chemical abortion drug mifepristone be dispensed in a medical office, clinic, or hospital. This was done under the guise of protecting women seeking abortions from being exposed to COVID-19. As a result of this ruling, chemical abortion could be prescribed via telehealth and sent through the mail without women ever seeing a health care practitioner in person. This at-home mail ordering of abortion pills could have contributed to the increase in abortions in 2020.
Since the beginning of 2020, there has been a strong increase of pro-life laws enacted in states across the country, while at the same time states with liberal abortion laws have also been enshrining abortion further into state law. Interestingly enough, the rise in abortions factors almost equally across pro-life states as it does pro-abortion states. An initial dive into the state data shows that there is no “one size fits all” reason; while state laws are an important factor in impacting the abortion rate, it is not the only factor. Rather, each state presents its own unique challenges when it comes to protecting life.
Illinois and Maine
First, consider radical pro-abortion states Illinois and Maine. They not only allow near-unrestricted abortion, but even require that abortions be paid for by taxpayers and private insurance companies. In 2017, the General Assembly of Illinois repealed several existing pro-life laws, and in the same bill required that abortion be covered by taxpayers in the state Medicaid plan. In 2019, Illinois became even more radical by requiring most private health insurance plans to cover abortion. Similarly in 2019, Maine enacted LD 820 that requires taxpayer funding of abortion on all state health plans. Through a generous interpretation of “health” as required by the Supreme Court case Doe v. Bolton, Maine’s law essentially allows abortion throughout the entirety of pregnancy for any reason.
From 2017 to 2020, Maine saw a 15% change in their abortion rate, increasing from 10.81 to 18.8 abortions per 1,000 pregnancies. Illinois had a 28% change in their abortion rate, increasing from 16.6 to 23.1 abortions per 1,000 pregnancies. This, of course, should not be surprising. Any introduction to economics class makes it clear that when prices are lower, demand is higher. If the cost an individual must pay to obtain an abortion is lower or nonexistent, it makes sense that the demand for abortion, and thus instances thereof would increase. An age-old hypothesis continues to play out — when abortions are paid for by taxpayers, the instances of abortion increase.
Simultaneously, states that have passed pro-life measures are seeing increases in abortions as well. For example, Kansas saw an increase in their abortion rate from 12.0 abortions in 2019 to 14.5 in 2020. This increase coincides with a pro-abortion decision out of the Supreme Court of the State of Kansas in 2019 that enshrined a “right to abortion” in the state’s constitution. Unfortunately, a constitutional amendment that would have overruled the decision failed due to a number of factors.
Kentucky is also a staunchly pro-life state, yet saw their abortion rate creep up 27% from 2017-2020. Kentucky has passed numerous pro-life laws over the years including protections for the unborn beginning at conception. However, their Democrat Governor Andy Beshear has refused to defend certain pro-life laws in court, first as Attorney General and now as Governor. Just this year, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in an 8-1 decision in Cameron v. EMW Women’s Surgical Center that pro-life Attorney General Daniel Cameron could intervene on Kentucky’s behalf in litigation concerning a pro-life law. Now Kentuckians may finally have the pro-life laws their elected representatives have passed go into effect.
Mississippi is a wholistically pro-life state. Mississippi currently has a law protecting life from the moment of conception that is finally able to be enforced. However, in the years leading up to the Dobbs case, the state also passed a heartbeat protection law, a 15-week gestation protection law, a 20-week gestation protection law, and a law protecting unborn lives from being discriminated against on the basis of sex, race, and pre-natal diagnosis. These laws have been passed and signed at various times with varying legislators over the past 50 years, showing that pro-life values have been consistently winning in Mississippi.
Even with these pro-life laws being passed, Mississippi saw a 41% increase in their abortion rate from 4.3 to 6.1 abortions per 1,000 pregnancies from 2017 to 2020. How can this be? Because Mississippi was trapped in the chokehold of Roe and Casey, which rendered their pro-life laws unenforceable. Roe and Casey have entirely disregarded the desire of Mississippi citizens to protect human life, pointing to the impact that life affirming laws can have in reducing abortion numbers.
However, what we cannot ignore is that there are still countless children who will not be protected even now that Roe is overturned. Many states have made it their priority to expand abortion on demand, without restriction.
California and Connecticut
Consider California, where the state legislature passed a bill that would remove insurance co-pays for abortions. They introduced a package of 13 bills that would make the state a sanctuary for abortion, providing stipends for women traveling for abortion and give more money to doctors who carry out abortions on low-income women.
Connecticut passed the Reproductive Freedom Defense Act and it was later signed into law by Governor Ned Lamont (D). This law increased access to abortion statewide, while protecting abortionists from legal liability for carrying out abortions. These states will stop at nothing to ensure that women see abortion as their only option and unborn babies lose all protections in the law.
States like these reveal that while the fight for the unborn in the post-Roe era will largely happen at the state level, there is an undeniable responsibility on federal legislators to consider the lives of the children whose states have failed them. If we truly hold fast to the truth, that each human being is made in the image and likeness of God, we cannot stop until every unborn child is legally protected at conception.
Connor Semelsberger would like to thank Gwen Charles for her research assistance for this story.
Connor Semelsberger is Director of Federal Affairs - Life and Human Dignity at Family Research Council.