Amidst all the discussion surrounding the repeal of Roe v. Wade, many posts leave out the most convincing arguments: data. For years, public health and other scientists have studied the effects of restrictive and non-restrictive abortion policies around the world. And the data paints a very, very clear picture.

A person who has had an abortion demonstrates with a sign that they believe in the right to safe and legal abortion that is accessible to all. This is representative of the "pro-choice" movement that advocates for the right of women to choose what to do with their bodies and be able to access abortion without legal ramifications.
Image courtesy Debra Sweet/Wikimedia.

2017: Abortions in the United States hit a historic low

A leading research and policy organization focused on sexual and reproductive health, the Guttmacher Institute released a report studying historic rates of abortion in the United States from 1973 (the year Roe v. Wade was enacted) to 2014. During those 40 years, abortion rates declined to the lowest recorded rate ever.

The report also found that the “majority of abortion patients – 75% – are poor or low-income, and nearly two-thirds are already parents.”

These findings back other studies’ findings that low-income women and women of color are the most likely to be affected by restrictive abortion laws. While conservatives have touted this as evidence of an “abortion industry” scam to target certain women, the actual science-backed evidence tells a different story. Reviewing the origins of low-income and racial disparities in abortion rates, research published in the American Journal of Public Health found that “Disparities in abortion rates are related to disparities in unintended pregnancy, and associated disparities in contraceptive use. Structural factors, including economic disadvantage, neighborhood characteristics, lack of access to family planning, and mistrust in the medical system underlie these findings.”

Essentially, the high rates of abortions among low-income women and women of color are caused by structural racism and structural barriers to obtaining quality medical care. These barriers include lack of access to reproductive health education and family planning services, lack of access to effective birth control, mistrust in the medical system (from decades of said women being sidelined by doctors and treated inequitably in hospitals), cultural stigmas surrounding birth control, and lack of monetary resources to purchase birth control, care for their children, and ensure maternal and child health.

“This focus on limiting access to abortion does nothing to mitigate the underlying inequities in wealth, education, health care, discrimination, or other life experiences that may influence reproductive health disparities, nor do they address specific disparities in contraceptive use or unintended pregnancy that lead to disparities in abortion rates. Instead, the resulting policies result in more women experiencing later abortions or having an unintended childbirth.”

2018: Restrictions increase unsafe abortions by 3000%

A year later, the Guttmacher Institute released a report in 2018 that compared abortion laws with rates of abortions – including whether those abortions were “safe” or “least safe” for the mother. Interestingly, the report found that – regardless of restrictions – abortion rates were about the same across all countries. And yet…

In countries where abortion was legal and not restricted, only 1% of abortions were “least safe.”

In countries where abortion access was restricted, 31% of abortions were “least safe.”

That’s a 3,000% increase in unsafe abortions when restrictions are imposed on what circumstances are legal for an abortion.

“The bottom line is that these restrictions … cause unnecessary harm and delay women in accessing the care they need,” stated Dr. Jody Steinauer, director of the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco.

2021: Abortion bans can lead to a 21% increase in pregnancy-related deaths

Dr. Amanda Jean Stevenson of the University of Colorado Boulder published her 2021 study that reviewed years of data to determine the effect of abortion bans on pregnancy-related deaths. In other words, do abortion bans increase or decrease the likelihood a woman will die during pregnancy?

The data itself was stark: Out of every 100,000 abortion procedures, only 0.44 women died. For the same number (100,000) of women giving live birth, 20.1 women died. That’s a 4,468% increase in risk of death during live birth as opposed to during abortion.

Dr. Stevenson went on to study the effects of a nationwide ban on abortions, using death rate data to project “how many deaths would occur if all pregnancies that currently end in abortion were instead continued to miscarriage or term.” The result? Pregnancy-related deaths would increase by 21% – or 140 additional deaths – within two years of a ban being put into effect. That’s an additional 140 women dead who did not have to die if they had access to safe, legal abortion procedures.

Among women of color, that rate grows further still.

Dr. Stevenson’s data is backed by Dr. Ana Langer, a professor of public health and coordinator of the Women and Health Initiative at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. In a 2021 interview, Dr. Langer stated:

“Restricting women’s access to safe and legal abortion services has important negative health implications. We’ve seen that these laws do not result in fewer abortions. Instead, they compel women to risk their lives and health by seeking out unsafe abortion care. […] The legal status of abortion also defines whether girls will be able to complete their educations and whether women will be able to participate in the workforce, and in public and political life. Improving social safety net programs for women reduces gender gaps and improves girls’ and women’s health and chances to fulfill their potential, and could help reduce the number of abortions over time. Women who are better educated, have better access to comprehensive reproductive health care, and are employed and fairly remunerated will be better positioned to avoid a mistimed and unwanted pregnancy, hence the need for termination will become less common.”

-Tiffany R. Isselhardt
Program Developer

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