By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D. NRL Director of Education & Research
Just days after National Right to Life issued a report saying available data appeared to show abortions going down in the U.S. since Dobbs, the Guttmacher Institute, the former special research affiliate of abortion giant Planned Parenthood, sent out a press research claiming new data shows abortions on the increase.
Guttmacher says fresh monthly counts from selected abortion “providers” indicate that the “Number of Abortions in the United States Likely to Be Higher in 2023 than in 2020”.
The abortion industry is clearly anxious to try to make the case that pro-life policies have not ultimately proven effective. They also want people to believe that it has, by clever legal and logistical maneuvering, been able to beat or blunt the impact of pro-life laws and keep the abortion industry humming.
Their publication of these preliminary numbers is proof that the industry has not been in retreat. But is it evidence of an increase?
Guttmacher weighs in
According to counts Guttmacher developed from clinics reporting to them, there were an estimated 878,200 abortions performed in the U.S. in the first ten months (January-October) of 2023. With that data currently showing an average of about 88,000 a month, Guttmacher projects that the expected year end total for 2023 will far exceed the 930,160 reported in its latest full survey of 2020. Do the math and you’ll get about 1,050,000 for the year
A different methodology
For the longest time, Guttmacher has been considered to have the most accurate abortion counts, relying on direct surveys of abortion clinics, rather that reports from state health departments, as the CDC does. There is a tendency to assume that same level of accuracy here, but their methods in this most recent study differ from those employed in its full national survey every three years.
While its regular survey attempts to get data from every national abortion “provider,” contacting them multiple times if necessary, the monthly data used here comes from “samples of abortion providers” combined with “historical data” on previous caseloads from earlier surveys to produce overall estimates for known “providers.”
The monthly survey sample includes some random “providers” as well as “[F]acilities that play a particularly important or unique role in provision (e.g., because they border a state with an abortion ban or because they provide a large share of abortions in the state).”
Guttmacher does not directly address the question of whether this method could oversample “providers” who are most likely to pick up out of state traffic or referrals after Dobbs and have the consequence of making the projected average caseload higher than it should be for all the rest of the unsampled clinics. Guttmacher does include broad “uncertainly intervals” for their estimates to show a range in which they think the most accurate estimate lies.
Guttmacher does not seem to be counting abortions from states where full protections for the unborn are in place. But one wonders whether Guttmacher’s statistical model could still be assigning caseloads to clinics in other states that have since closed or become dormant (as far as abortion goes) under Dobbs.
If abortions went up, why?
Though their accuracy at this point is hard to ascertain, Guttmacher’s report does raise the possibility that abortion numbers may have continued their pre-Dobbs increase after Dobbs, despite that momentous decision.
If that did happen, or even if we just want to know why the overturning of Roe did not automatically shut down the abortion industry across the board, there are some significant reasons that may have occurred.
Old clinic employees as travel agents
The industry has made no secret of the fact that they invested a great deal of money and effort in setting up an extensive and expensive referral system. This is one where they made arrangements for vulnerable pregnant women from states with legal protections for unborn children to travel to clinics in neighboring or other states with abortion supportive policies. They may begin running out of money at some point, but early on, private abortion funds were paying for or at least supplementing that travel or even helping to cover the costs of the abortion.
This certainly contributed to any “abortion migration” from one state to another, but it also meant large number of women aborting who might otherwise have stayed in their home state and had their babies. That not only keeps abortions up but may have the consequence of encouraging some women to abort who otherwise had neither the money nor the inclination to do so.
The abortion industry has been preparing for years to handle the higher volume from out of state clients, building high volume mega-clinics just across state lines, and setting up mobile clinics to patrol the boundaries in border states.
Chemical abortions without clinics
Guttmacher also points to the role of chemical abortion, particularly those performed remotely via telemedicine.
When these pills had to be distributed at clinics, they still attracted a large number of women who were looking for an alternative to surgical abortion. But when the courts and the Biden administration were able to push through changes that allowed these to be delivered by mail to women’s homes without any in-person visit, this made these dangerous abortions easily available to women who lived far from any brick and mortar clinics.
That also helped drive abortions up.
Data from both the Society of Family Planning and Guttmacher show that there was a big spike in the number of abortions the clinics they contacted recorded for March of 2023. This was precisely when there was heavy national media coverage of the case in the North Texas federal district court that challenged the government’s approval of the abortion pill mifepristone.
Clearly, fears that the drug was about to be pulled off the market prompted a lot of “panic buying.” Though the government largely lost that case, the drug stayed on the market pending a review of that decision by higher courts.
The bottom line? Lives saved.
The confluence of all these efforts and expenditures by the abortion industry may been able keep abortion trending upwards in the United States, despite the new legal protections in place for women and children in many states because of Dobbs. We’ll have to wait and see what the numbers are when more complete data comes out from Guttmacher and the abortion industry.
Regardless of what the final numbers turn out to be, some women clearly traveled and got abortions in other states, and some ordered abortion pills over the internet. The abortion industry prepared for this and helped make it happen.
But we also know from statistics and from multiple news stories that many women from those states with protections, who would have otherwise visited their (now closed or dormant) neighborhood abortion clinic, decided to stay home and have their babies.
The other side will continue to scare women into buying dangerous pills online and will keep trying to ship women to other states. But it isn’t clear what they’ll do when they run out of free travel money or will do if the Supreme Court (or the exposure of a bad safety record) stops the mailing of abortion pills.
Ultimately, we have to believe that the battle will be won not by the ones who have the most money or the most influence with the media, but the ones who demonstrate with word and deed their love for both mother and child.
They’re the ones who really count most of all.