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Abortions rise slightly since Roe v Wade was overturned, driven in part by telemedicine

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Abortions rise slightly since Roe v Wade was overturned, driven in part by telemedicine

May 20, 2024 | 6:00 am ET
By Anita Wadhwani
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Abortions rise slightly since Roe v Wade was overturned, driven in part by telemedicine
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A rally in support of abortion rights drew hundreds to downtown Nashville on Saturday, May 14, 2022. (Photo: John Partipilo)

In the 18 months since the Supreme Court Dobbs decision ushered in abortion bans or restrictions in nearly half the country, the volume of abortions across the United States has slightly risen, according to new data released last week by the Society for Family Planning.

Among the factors driving the increase are more patients, who in their first trimester of pregnancy turned to telemedicine, in which abortion-inducing pills are being prescribed and sent through the mail — among them a rapidly growing number of pregnant women who live in states with strict abortion bans.

In total, nearly one-in-five abortions in the U.S. sought in the latter half of 2023 were medication abortions via telemedicine — accounting for nearly 17,000 abortion each month, the #WeCount report found.

A main takeway from the #WeCount Report is that banning abortion does not eliminate the need for abortion care.

– Dr. Ushman Upadhyway, University of Calififornia-San Francisco

Of these, 8,000 were sought monthly by women living in states with abortion bans who had virtual appointments with healthcare providers located in a handful of states that have enacted so-called shield laws — laws that first began appearing in 2023 and that are designed to provide legal protections from criminal or civil actions for healthcare providers prescribing abortion pills to women in states with bans or severe restrictions.

“A main takeway from the #WeCount Report is that banning abortion does not eliminate the need for abortion care,” said Dr. Ushman Upadhyway, professor and public health scientist at the University of California, San Francisco who co-chaired the research study.

The study’s authors said they are not sharing data that would reveal numbers of women obtaining telehealth abortions with providers operating under shield law.

In Tennessee, abortion has been virtually banned since August 2022. Earlier the same year, and just weeks before the Supreme Court’s June 2022 Dobbs decision ending a constitutional right to abortion, Gov. Bill Lee signed into law a measure that made telehealth abortion a Class E felony for providers. The law does not apply to patients.

A recent study found that the number of abortions sought nationally increased from an average of 82,000 per month in 2022 to 86,000 in 2023, after the U.S. Supreme Court ended the constitutional protections for abortion.

There have been no legal challenges to abortion providers operating in states with shield laws. Currently, California Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and Washington have adopted some form of shield law protecting medication abortion prescribers from legal action and liability.

The study found that the number of abortions sought nationally increased from an average of 82,000 per month in 2022 to 86,000 in 2023, a slight increase that nevertheless surprised the researchers who expected abortion numbers to dip.  Some states saw significant increases in abortions in the 18 months since the Supreme Court ruling — among them California, Florida and Illinois.

Illinois is among the closest destinations for Tennessee women seeking abortions and the site of CHOICES Center for Reproductive Health, a clinic opened by Memphis providers to provide abortions to the increasing number of women traveling to Illinois from states with abortion bans, including patients in Tennessee.

Not surprisingly, the data — which lists state-by-state abortion tallies by month — shows no abortions performed in Tennessee since July 2022, when a legal challenge to a then-six week abortion, then tied up in court, was immediately implemented and quickly followed by the total ban a month later.

“We are grateful to live in a state that respects the right to life of its citizens, even the most vulnerable,” Will Brewer, legal counsel for Tennessee Right to Life, said in response to a request for comment about the report. “We are proud that Tennessee law is protecting women and their children from the tragedy of abortion and that there are children alive today because of our protections.”