In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organizationtopple Roe v. Wade, many “red” states have introduced strict new abortion restrictions. Abortion rights advocates feared and pro-lifers hoped that this would result in a major drop in the number of abortions in the US. Some also predicted that many people would “vote with their feet” against abortion bans by moving to pro-choice states.
However, so far the data suggests that none of this has happened. Like the New York Times Data collected by the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute shows that the number of abortions may even have increased since Dobbs. That’s largely because many women have circumvented state restrictions by traveling to more liberal states to obtain abortions:
The number of legal abortions in the United States most likely increased in the first six months of the year compared to 2020, an analysis of new estimates shows, as states with more permissive abortion laws absorbed patients traveling from those with bans and access to abortion pills via telemedicine. to expand.
New research from the Guttmacher Institute offers the latest look at legal abortions since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision last year upended abortion access nationwide and allowed more than a dozen states to ban or restrict the procedure.
The data shows that thousands of women have crossed state lines to obtain an abortion, despite restrictions at home. It also signals a rise in abortions among those living in states where the procedure is legal…
Overall, about 511,000 abortions are estimated to have taken place in areas where the procedure was legal in the first six months of 2023, a review of Guttmacher’s data shows, compared to about 465,000 abortions nationwide in a six-month period in 2020.
Abortions increased in almost every state where the procedure remains legal, but the change was most visible in states bordering states with total abortion bans. Many of these states have relaxed abortion laws and providers have opened new clinics to serve patients from elsewhere.
Guttmacher and the New York Times 2020 was taken as a starting point, because that is the last pre-Dobbs year for which they have complete data. I wondered if the 2020 numbers are artificially low because some abortions were prevented by Covid lockdowns and other pandemic-era restrictions. But that doesn’t seem to have been a deciding factor. Guttmacher estimates that the number of abortions in 2020 (930,000) was actually slightly higher than in 2019 before the pandemic (about 916,000). In contrast, the CDC estimated a slight decline of 1.5% between 2019 and 2020. But even that seems relatively small.
A separate study was conducted for the 538 site discovered that in the first nine months afterward DobbsThere were approximately 93,575 fewer abortions in states that banned or severely restricted abortions, but this was largely offset by an increase of 69,285 abortions in other states – an increase largely driven by interstate travel. The estimate of 538 implies a reduction of about 32,000 abortions over an entire year. But even that isn’t much when we consider that Guttmacher estimates a total of 930,000 abortions in 2020.
The 538 Research shows that draconian restrictions in many states have only reduced abortions by about 3%. Guttmacher’s data imply that there may be no reduction at all. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between.
Meanwhile, there is little or no evidence of large-scale abortion-induced migration from states with strict abortion restrictions. Perhaps it will still happen. But we are not there yet.
In a series of articles published earlier this year (see here and here), I tentatively predicted that relatively little abortion-driven “foot voting” would occur through interstate migration, because most women seeking abortions would be able to more easily circumvent the restrictions by temporarily traveling abroad. other states to obtain one or by performing mail-order “medication” abortions. That appears to be exactly what happened. I also noted that abortions through interstate travel and medication are themselves a kind of foot vote, albeit less far-reaching and less costly than migration.
None of this proves that the new abortion restrictions are free. Far from it. Having to leave the state to get an abortion is costly and inconvenient, especially for poor women and those with relatively inflexible work schedules and household obligations. The new laws have also had serious consequences for abortion providers in the affected states. But interstate mobility has negated many (but not all) of the worst potential consequences for women seeking abortions.
I am pro-freedom of choice and a supporter of broad rights to bodily autonomy. So I welcome this effect of interstate mobility, even as I continue to condemn the state laws that made it necessary.
But for pro-lifers, this state of affairs must be disappointing. It could lead some red states to try to enact laws banning their citizens from crossing state lines to get abortions, or punishing those who help them, a move already considered by state lawmakers in Missouri and Idaho.
If such laws are passed, they are likely to be rejected by the courts. There are several strong constitutional arguments against it. In a unanimous opinion DobbsJustice Brett Kavanaugh — a key member of the Supreme Court’s conservative majority — said such bans are unconstitutional. While Kavanaugh’s opinion is not a binding precedent, it is a strong sign of what the Supreme Court is likely to do if the issue comes before them.
Many pro-life activists and GOP politicians, including several presidential candidates, have advocated for national abortion bans imposed by the federal government. I believe such bans would also be unconstitutional because they are beyond the scope of Congress’ power under Article I of the Constitution. But unlike state-imposed travel bans, I am very uncertain about what the Supreme Court would do on this issue. Of course, it wouldn’t be easy for Republicans to enact a nationwide ban in the first place, as it would likely require simultaneous Republican Party control of both Congress and the White House, plus a willingness to end the filibuster to suspend or abolish (as would otherwise be the case). Pro-choice senators could use that rule to block the legislation).
Additionally, it is worth noting that mail-order abortions may be restricted by currently ongoing lawsuits over the legality of mifepristone, the main abortion pill used in the US. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit recently rejected claims that the FDA was wrong to approve it, but struck down the agencies’ recent policy to make access easier. The issue may ultimately be resolved by the Supreme Court. If medication abortion is severely restricted, it could encourage more interstate travel to obtain abortions, and perhaps even some interstate migration.
The future of abortion rights in the US remains uncertain. Much depends on what Congress does in the future, and how the courts respond. But so far, the combination of federalism and mobility has significantly limited its impact Dobbs.