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More Post-Dobbs Abortion Numbers – Telabortions on the Rise

by | Mar 12, 2024

By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D. NRL Director of Education & Research

Editor’s note. This appeared in the March issue of NRL News. Please share this and all the stories with your pro-life family and friends.

Tracking abortions since Dobbs has been difficult not just because of all the usual challenges – e.g., it normally takes years to collect and process the data, some states are usually more forthcoming than others – but also because the decision gave different states and key abortion industry players the incentive to either downplay or play up state numbers.

Keep that in mind while reading the latest “We Count” report from the Society of Family Planning (SFP) that came out February 24, 2024.  SFP has been conducting monthly surveys of its membership since April of 2022 to get an idea of state trends since Dobbs.

The latest report added abortion data for July 2023 through September of 2023 to previous counts that began in April of 2022, two months before Dobbs appeared but shortly after leaks of the decision began to circulate. Immediate results showed a big drop off in the number of monthly abortions, particularly in those states which protected unborn children or otherwise limited abortion but with abortion picking up in more abortion- friendly states as time went on.

So though initial figures showed that there was a net drop of just over 25,000 for 2022, a lot of that difference was made up for in 2023. Many women, aided by industry “travel agents,” sought their abortions in neighboring states prepped to handle the overflow.

SFP shows monthly totals peaking at 95,600 in March of 2023 after dropping as low as 77,250 in November of 2022.  Numbers for the most recent three months covered by the report are down, though. The average was just under 85,000 a month, with the highest number of abortions being August of 2023 with 88,620 and the lowest being September 2023 with 81,150.

The New York Times suggests that this means that the overall number of monthly abortions is “slightly higher” than it was just before Dobbs, but this fails to consider some of the larger trendlines and some of the context for these numbers.

Increased Telabortions Part of the Mix

One new element in this count is the specific inclusion of “telehealth” or “telabortions.” Here a woman orders abortions pills from a virtual clinic after a short online, smartphone, or text messaging interview and has them shipped to her home.  It is unclear how many of these were included in past counts, but this latest report shows about 14,000 of these a month after being between 6,000 and 8,000 for most of the previous twelve months.

According to SFP, this would make telehealth responsible for about one out of every six abortions performed in the United States. These have been growing in the U.S., especially since the Biden administration pushed the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to allow these to be shipped to women’s homes without an in-person visit to the doctor’s office. But how much of this recent jump is due to that change and how much is due to changes in how SFP identifies and counts these abortions is unknown.

At least some of this increase is merely a matter of recategorizing abortion pill orders that have been handled by regular brick-and-mortar clinics doing virtual interviews who then mailed out abortion pills under the new federal regulations. They may have been recorded before but as regular in clinic abortions rather than telehealth abortions.

Some of this increase, though, SFP authors seem to be saying, involves abortion pills being shipped to women in states where most abortions or telabortions are not allowed. These are facilitated by what the authors call “shield laws.” These are laws passed by abortion friendly states attempting to “shield” abortion pill providers there from criminal prosecution or civil liability in other states where that provision is not legal.

The constitutionality of such measures has not been established yet. Many think it probably violates “full faith and credit” clause found in Article IV, Section I of the U.S. Constitution, requiring that state courts respect the laws and judgments of courts from other states.

 Following Trends

Given the different caveats and SFP’s ways of presenting and finessing the data (e.g., “imputing” data for missing clinics in some states, as well as counting telehealth abortions for states that limit abortions on a national but not state level), it is hard to nail down hard trends. SFP says that there were cumulatively 120,930 fewer abortions after Dobbs in states which “banned” abortions and 24,640 than there would have been if pre-Dobbs trends had persisted.

Some of that would be made up by women getting abortion pills by telehealth and being added to national totals or traveling to get abortions in other states and being counted there. But, taken together, SFP’s national data — combining numbers from states protecting abortion with those protecting unborn children — appears to point to a small, but overall national drop.

And if the last three months covered by the report (July 2023 – September 2023) are any indication of future trends, the trend is now moving down again after a brief swell earlier in the year.

The Guttmacher Institute recently released its own monthly count covering the first ten months of 2023. That showed similar, though slightly higher monthly figures. Both point to a robust abortion industry continuing to push the shipping of abortion pills and spending heavily on patient travel to other states.

But Guttmacher, too, showed what appears to be a drop in the later months of 2023. Perhaps that signaled that abortion travel funds are drying up or that abortion pill sales have dwindled or gone further underground.

 Where things stand

The bottom line, according to SFP, is that

In the 15 months after Dobbs, more than 100,000 fewer abortions were provided in states that banned abortion totally or banned at 6-weeks gestation. People in states with abortion bans or severe restrictions were forced to delay their abortions, to travel to another state, to obtain care from a provider in a shield law state, to self-manage their abortions, or to continue a pregnancy they did not want.

While their spin is very self-serving to the abortion industry, the facts remain. States where unborn children and their mothers are legally protected have seen a large drop in the number of abortions. Some of this is made up for by women ordering abortion pills online or traveling to neighboring states and getting abortions there.

But the sky has not fallen…predicted would follow the defeat of Roe. The report shows many moms decided to stay home and give birth to their children.

And that’s good news.

Categories: Abortion Pill