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A closer look at Ohio's abortion numbers before and after the state's ban

Gov. Mike DeWine signs the anti-abortion "heartbeat bill" into law in 2019. The law was later put on hold by a federal court.
Daniel Konik
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Gov. Mike DeWine signs the anti-abortion "heartbeat bill" into law in 2019. The law was later put on hold by a federal court.

A recent study that compared the number of abortions in Ohio in August with the number of abortions in April appeared to show the state's abortion ban had a dramatic effect on the number of abortions being performed, but the researchers who conducted that study said there's more to the story.

According to the study, the number of abortions was down 65% in August when Ohio's abortion ban was in effect when compared with April, when legal abortion was still a constitutional right nationwide.

Back in April, Allison Norris, an Ohio State University professor, and others started tracking abortions in Ohio month-by-month.

Two months later, on June 24, hours after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 50-year-old, landmark Roe v. Wade ruling allowing abortion in every state, Ohio had a new abortion ban of its own on the books. It outlawed abortion at the point electrical cardiac activity could be detected. That can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

Norris, a lead researcher working on the study, took a closer look at the numbers and said that 65% number didn't take into account that some Ohioans might be getting abortions elsewhere.

“When you look at some of the surrounding states, you see increases. and when we sum it up across the country, there were about 22,000 fewer abortions in the places where there were declines and an increase of about 11,000 abortions in places where there were increases so many of the people who needed abortions in Ohio may have been able to travel to one of those states,” Norris said.

A court case filed in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court a couple of months ago proved there were some cases of people traveling out of state for an abortion. A high-profile case involved a 10-year-old rape victim who traveled to Indiana to get an abortion just after Ohio's ban was put in place. But others were cited too.

Norris said there were probably many more who traveled to get abortions but aren't reflected in her study. Still, she said many may not have been able to travel.

"The travel itself is very burdensome. It is the case that many times when people have to travel for health care, they have to stay overnight. They have to make arrangements around missing work and taking care of family members so the burden of travel can't be underestimated. Even though people managed to do the travel, it came at huge costs to many people," Norris said.

Norris said, of those who didn't travel to other states, some may have had self-managed procedures with the assistance of medications that induce abortion.

"We don't know how many people had self-managed abortion which is often done by purchasing medication abortion pills online and indeed there are services that will run even in states where abortion has been banned," Norris said.

A recent study published by the JAMA Network showed an increase in nearly 120% nationally in online abortion pill orders in June and July through Aid Access, a group that operates outside the U.S. health care system. That organization is designed to circumvent state abortion bans and that's just one way someone could get a medical abortion.

Abortion-inducing medication must be used early in a pregnancy, usually about 11 weeks or less. The latest Ohio abortion report showed, of the 21,813 abortions conducted in 2021, 18,945 or 86.8% of them occurred at 12 weeks or less in gestation — the time period in which abortion medications could be used.

After that, surgical abortion is commonly used, with another 2,382 abortions conducted between 13 and 18 weeks and 330 between 19 and 20 weeks of gestation.

There were 156 abortions past that point but it's important to note Ohio has had a law in effect since March 14, 2017 that only allows abortions past 20 weeks of gestation unless the mother's physical health is in danger. It remains in effect even as the six-week abortion ban, which has been put on hold for now by the Hamilton County court, is being appealed and could be reinstated by a court at some point in the future.

Ohio lawmakers are also considering other abortion bans that could go even further. Those measures could be taken up later this month when state legislators return to the Statehouse for what's known as a lame duck session — the month at the end of the year when a flurry of bills are expedited for passage before the current Ohio General Assembly ends.

Norris said the long-term effects of Ohio’s abortion ban are still unknown. She said it's clear some women, especially those who are low-income, may have wanted abortions but were unable to get them.

She said pregnancy generally makes it harder for families who are struggling financially to get ahead. So, she said it is possible the increased number of women who couldn't get abortions might end up increasing the need for more state services at some point in the future.

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Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.