People gathered at the Colorado Capitol for the “Bans off our Bodies” rally in support of abortion rights on May 14, 2022. (Andrew Fraieli for Colorado Newsline)
A report tracking legal abortions since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade shows a 33% increase in abortions in Colorado from April through August, the third-most of any state.
#WeCount, a national abortion reporting effort from the nonprofit Society of Family Planning, looks at how abortion access has changed by state since the Supreme Court’s decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson case, which removed constitutional protection of abortion rights. The report says the data shows that those seeking abortions both in states with and without protection of the procedure are impacted by the court’s decision.
When comparing April of this year with August, the number of legal abortions performed nationally decreased by about 6%. The study estimated 85,020 abortions were performed across the U.S. in April compared to 79,620 abortions in August. The court announced its decision in June. States where abortion remains legal, like Colorado, saw an uptick, though it varies depending on proximity to states with restrictions on abortion or outright bans.
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In Colorado, the number of abortions increased by 290, or 20% from April to July, and by 480 from April to August — good for a 33% increase, the report said. This is based on data reported by abortion providers in the state, with less than 10% of Colorado’s providers not reporting their data for the study. But, it also notes that one of the study’s key limitations is the inability to monitor how many abortions occurred outside of the formal health care system.
Karen Middleton, president of Cobalt, a Colorado-based reproductive rights advocacy organization, said as the Society of Family Planning’s reporting efforts continue, the numbers will likely only grow as more providers share their data in a timely manner. But even without everyone participating, it still reflects “what we’re seeing on the ground.”
I think the important thing to understand is we're not just experiencing this increase around abortion care, but every area of reproductive health care is being impacted because of the volume of people that have no other place to turn, and that's something that's very concerning to us.
– Karen Middleton, president of Cobalt
Dr. Kristina Tocce, medical director at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said the report captures the experience Colorado has been having since the Dobbs decision, both from a provider and public health lens.
Tocce said she’s seen an increase in out-of-state patients, both at Planned Parenthood facilities and with other abortion providers, over the past year, not only because of the Dobbs decision but also due to Texas’ six-week abortion ban, which passed last year.
“I think every single individual who provides abortion care in the state has experienced this,” Tocce said.
Another study released Tuesday noted the average travel time it takes for someone to get to an abortion clinic is “significantly greater” post-Dobbs than it was before the decision.
Middleton said it’s clear the state’s abortion providers are feeling the impacts of increased demand, but there’s more to it than just people seeking abortions.
“I think the important thing to understand is we’re not just experiencing this increase around abortion care, but every area of reproductive health care is being impacted because of the volume of people that have no other place to turn, and that’s something that’s very concerning to us,” Middleton said. “We’re working to help people who are able to provide abortion care to expand those services, and then also to try to help support the broader areas of reproductive health care that are being impacted by this really becoming a public health care crisis across the country.”
“When we’re talking about essential health care such as abortion care, it’s so time sensitive, so for all providers to see our wait times go up to as long as 23 days, we know what impact that has on patients,” Tocce said.
The only two states with a higher increase than Colorado in abortions performed since the Dobbs decision were North Carolina with a 37% increase and Kansas with a 36% increase.
Tocce said people are starting to realize that the Dobbs decision has an impact on them even if they live in a protected state like Colorado.
“It doesn’t matter if you live down the street from an abortion providing facility in a safe haven state or if you are in a banned state, you’re still going to be affected by this because of those wait times and the difficulty accessing the services, because the demand is so great in the states that still have access to care,” Tocce said. “So it affects every single person of reproductive age in this country, and it is not something that is limited to the states that have these bans or severe restrictions. It impacts all of us.”
We have seen that banning or restricting abortion, it doesn't decrease people's need for abortion care — it just blocks their ability to to access it.
– Dr. Kristina Tocce, medical director at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains
Middleton said many of the people who pushed so hard for limitations on abortion “did not understand the complexity of reproductive health care,” because pregnant people experiencing severe pregnancy compilations “are being further complicated,” she said. Middleton said she hopes that as people have a better understanding of the impacts, it will lead to policy changes and will even change how people will vote on the issue of abortion.
“People have to experience more severe bleeding or more pain before they can be treated in an emergency situation in one of these states that won’t provide access,” Middleton said. “The other kinds of stories we’re hearing are people who are driving here under what feels like emergency circumstances: there’s an ectopic pregnancy, they’re suffering pain or bleeding — there’s something going wrong and they do not feel they can safely get help in their own state.”
Another aspect of the study Tocce highlighted is that the states with the most restrictive bans on abortion care also happen to be the states with the greatest inequities, meaning the impacts of the Supreme Court’s decision are not the same across the board.
“The declines in the numbers of abortion occurred in the same states with the greatest structural and social inequities in terms of maternal morbidity and mortality and poverty,” the report reads. “Thus, the impact of the Dobbs decision is not equally distributed. People of color and people working to make ends meet have been impacted the most.”
While the list of resources abortion providers need to ease their difficulties is “very long and intense,” Tocce said the main needs fall into two categories: patient assistance and access expansion.
“We have seen that banning or restricting abortion, it doesn’t decrease people’s need for abortion care — it just blocks their ability to to access it,” Tocce said. “We have an infrastructure for providing abortion care, but there are thousands of people living in the 18 states and counting that have severely restricted or have completely banned access to abortion.”
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