Births are up in states with restrictive abortion bans, a new report finds

Ohio Abortion

A new study of the first six months of 2023 has found that births increased by an average of 2.3% in states with restrictive abortion bans compared to states where abortion care remains protected.

In Wisconsin, for example, there was an 18.1% increase in births in the state due to the ban on abortion following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling that reversed Roe v. Wade in June 2022.

“Although it did not have a ban in effect as of October 2022, the legal environment has been highly hostile, and existing abortion policies are unclear. As a result, all Wisconsin abortion providers ceased providing services due to Dobbs,” the study reads.

One of the study’s authors, Daniel Dench of the Georgia Institute of Technology, explained to the American Independent that the 2.3% increase in fertility or births is “an equivalent of about preventing one-fifth to one-fourth of all abortions occurring in that state.” He added that in terms of the size of the effect, “it is a substantial number of people being prevented from doing what they otherwise would have done.”

Using recently released birth counts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics, the report’s research was conducted by economists at Georgia Institute of Technology and Middlebury College and published by the nonprofit Institute of Labor Economics.

“So we have this general downward trend in fertility anyway. And so these bans are pushing against that general downward trend,” Dench says. “What really happened in the ban states, from what we see in the first six months of 2023, is that it stops trending downward in these states, while the other states, the non-banned states, continue trending downward.”

The report found that the impact was particularly striking for Hispanic women, who saw a 4.7% increase in births, and for younger women between the ages of 20 and 24, who saw a 3.3% increase in births.

Additionally, birth numbers were higher in states like Texas, which saw a 5.1% increase in births, and Mississippi, which saw a 4.4% increase in births. Abortion is banned in both Texas and Mississippi.

The researchers concluded that the increase in abortion-restrictive states surrounded by other abortion-restrictive states was, at least in part, due to longer distances patients had to travel to seek abortion care in states where it’s protected — making the trip cost-prohibitive. The report found that post-Dobbs, he average driving distance to a clinic or hospital offering abortion care increased in Texas by 452.9 miles, and in Louisiana by 408.6 miles.

In Wisconsin, the distance those driving to obtain abortion care had to travel increased by 2.5%, or 43.8 more miles. 

“Distance is a factor that matters,” Mayra Pineda-Torres, one of the study’s authors, told the American Independent. “Distance is a factor that prevents people from going to an abortion facility. Because of everything around traveling that distance, right? It’s not just that you’re driving. There are a bunch of arrangements that an abortion seeker has to make around a long trip to a facility.”

In the state of Missouri, there was very little change from pre- to post-Dobbs in birth rates. Pineda-Torres says that’s due to the state’s existing restrictions pre-Dobbs that had already made it difficult for patients to seek abortion care.

“But then you have these places that were already very restricted; people have very low access to abortion, even before Dobbs, but Dobbs made it so much worse,” Pineda-Torres says.

Another study by WeCount found that abortion care actually increased nationwide post-Dobbs. The most significant upticks were in states that bordered abortion-restrictive states — indicating that the ability to travel for care remains a barrier to access.

Medical experts such as Dr. Warren Hern, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Colorado, have repeatedly said that not all patients seek abortion care due to unwanted pregnancies. Some patients face life-threatening issues and fetal abnormalities.

A report released in December 2022, just months following the Dobbs decision, found that rates of maternal and fetal deaths were higher in states with restrictive abortion bans. The report highlighted that many of these states were also places defined as “maternity care deserts” — areas with fewer hospitals, birthing centers, or clinics and fewer OB-GYNs.

Abortion bans have been shown to heavily impact low-income patients. People living below 200% of the federal poverty line made up 75% of abortions in 2014, according to the Guttmacher Institute. “It’s important to remember that abortion, in general, is a story mostly of inequality,” Dench said.

Updated on Jan. 3, 2024 to include additional context.