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Abortion rates in 2020 increased 8% from 2017, new report finds

Yahoo Life 12/5/2022 Korin Miller
The Guttmacher Institute's new report found that medication abortion accounted for more than half of U.S. abortions in 2020. © Provided by Yahoo Life The Guttmacher Institute's new report found that medication abortion accounted for more than half of U.S. abortions in 2020.

Abortion in the U.S. was on the rise as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, according to a new report from the Guttmacher Institute. The report offers one of the most up-to-date looks at abortion in the country two years before the reversal of Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that previously guaranteed the right to an abortion for Americans.

For the report, known as the Abortion Provider Census, researchers collected information from all facilities that were known to have provided abortion services in the U.S. in 2019 and 2020. The researchers compared the findings to the 2017 Abortion Provider Census and discovered that, in 2020, there were 930,160 abortions performed — an 8% increase from the number of abortions performed in 2017. 

Abortion rates also increased in all four regions of the country and in a majority of states, according to the data. 

According to the study authors, "This report demonstrates that the need for abortion care was growing just prior to the overturning Roe v. Wade, and the impact of this decision will be even more far-reaching than previously expected."

Rachel Jones, co-author of the study and principal research scientist at the Guttmacher Institute, tells Yahoo Life: "An increase in abortion is a good thing if it means more people are accessing health care that they want and need. . . . This study demonstrates that the reliance on abortion was needed before it was taken away in this country."

The study discovered many details about abortion in the U.S. Here's what you need to know.

Medication abortion accounts for more than half of abortions in the U.S.

There were 492,210 medication abortions, which typically involves taking a combination of mifepristone and misoprostol — a whopping 45% increase from 2017. Overall, the report found that 54% of abortions in 2020 were medication abortions, which the institute considers a "significant jump." 

"Convenience plays a large role in this," women's health expert Dr. Jennifer Wider, tells Yahoo Life. "Medication abortions require little to no face-to-face contact between the patient and health care provider [and] the medication can be picked up easily or even in the mail." Getting an abortion this way was "easily sustained throughout the pandemic, where many people did not go into a health care setting for medical care," she adds. 

Jones points out that medication abortions were already on the rise before 2020, adding, "In some ways, this was continuing the trend, although we do think in some way COVID contributed to it."

Abortions were on the rise in 2020.

The increase in abortions also coincided with a decrease in births — one that was "much larger" than the increase in abortion, Jones says. "A lot of academics and economics have been studying this, but there is no clear answer as to why has emerged," she says. 

But Wider points out that the Trump administration put restrictions on the Title X family planning program "that gave millions of dollars to clinics in the U.S. in order to offer low-income people free or subsidized birth control and other reproductive health services." As a result, she says "access to birth control decreased and the demand for abortions went up."

In 2020, 89% of U.S. counties did not have a clinic facility that provided abortion care.

At the same time, 38% of women of reproductive age — 15 to 44 years old — lived in these counties without clinics, according to the report. Clinics are the main source of abortion care in the U.S. Now, however, 14 states have no abortion clinics, according to Guttmacher. "People in these states were already traveling out of state for care because there was just one clinic in their state," Jones says. "People will have to travel more, and some will have to hop over multiple states to access clinical care, if they even have the option of doing that." 

At 100 days post-Roe, which was overturned in June 2022, Guttmacher data found that 90% of counties did not have a clinic facility that provided abortion care, with 48% of women ages 15 to 44 living in those counties.

In 2020, at least 42% of responding clinics adopted remote post-abortion visits.

Post-abortion visits conducted remotely rose in 2020. "A lot of facilities used to say, 'You need to come in X number of days or weeks later,' but they realized that they can do that over the phone and video," Jones says. "People don't need to travel, and it has the potential to make care more accessible."

The reversal of Roe v. Wade will likely impact this data.

To date, 14 states have imposed an abortion ban at viability and 12 states ban abortion outright, according to Guttmacher. "Without a doubt, abortions will go down," Jones says. But, Wider points out, this "will not put an end to the need or desire" to get an abortion. "There are many health risks for women being denied a wanted abortion and it's most likely going to impact lower socioeconomic groups and minorities," she adds.

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