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California deemed a ‘surge state’ for abortions post-Roe

A Planned Parenthood facility is seen in this file photo taken in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022.
Rich Pedroncelli
AP Photo
A Planned Parenthood facility is seen in this file photo taken in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022.

Data collected from abortion providers since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022 shows California is performing an average of 473 more abortions per month than it was in the months before the Dobbs decision.

Altogether, the #WeCount Project, which was developed to track how the distribution of abortions changed in the U.S. after federal protections were removed, found that California has provided 4,260 more abortions in the nine months after Dobbs than it would have, based on numbers from the two months prior to the decision. The project is run by the nonprofit Society of Family Planning, which advocates for increased abortion accessibility.

The project has California among its top five “surge states” where the number of abortions has increased the most. The state with the largest increase is Florida, with 12,460 more abortions than expected, followed by Illinois, North Carolina, Colorado, then California.

“We are seeing that states that have the largest surges are states that are most proximate to states that have banned abortion,” said Dr. Ushma Upadhyay, professor and social scientist at the University of California, San Francisco and co-chair of the #WeCount project.

Upadhyay says this is the first time California, which has relatively few restrictions, and has billed itself as an “abortion sanctuary,” is up with the other surge states.

While she says an outright ban in Idaho and mounting restrictions in Arizona may be driving the surge, the increase may also be attributed to rising supply and demand in the state. Since 2017, abortion rates in all areas of the U.S. have risen.

“People are delaying childbirth,” Upadhyay said. “Perhaps because of changing roles, expanded workplace opportunities, there is greater interest in abortion.”

She says telehealth, which grew hugely during the COVID-19 pandemic, lowered barriers for people to end pregnancies. #WeCount data shows virtual-only clinics in California provided medication abortions to about 1,330 people per month in the post-Dobbs period the project analyzed.

The uptick in abortions in states where the procedure is easier to access does not account for the decline in abortions in states that have banned it completely. The project estimates that “an average of 2,849 fewer abortions were provided in the U.S. each month compared to April 2022.”

“We often talk about numbers of abortions, but it's so important to remember that these are people's lives that were completely upended and they either self-manage their abortions or were forced to carry those pregnancies to term,” Upadhyay said.

The #WeCount project defines self-managing an abortion as “any attempt to end a pregnancy outside the formal healthcare system, including using medications, herbs or something else, or obtaining pills from friends or online without clinical assistance.”

Upadhyay says we won’t know for sure how those pregnancies were dealt with until we see more birth data for the post-Dobbs period.

California’s Planned Parenthood braces to fight in 2024

Advocates in California say the state has an obligation to fight on the federal level to protect abortion, especially during the upcoming election year.

During a press event introducing a temporary storytelling booth at Sacramento’s California Museum, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California CEO Jody Hicks said even though California voters passed Proposition 1 in 2022, enshrining the right to an abortion in the state constitution, the procedure could still be at risk.

According to the advocacy and policy organization the Guttmacher Institute, 24 states in the country have already enacted an abortion ban or are likely to do so.

“You're going to have half the country that don't have rights and don't have access to critical health care and the other half will. And that's just chaos,” Hicks said. “And it certainly leaves opportunity for every state to lose rights in the future.”

Hicks also said she suspects groups that organized to challenge Roe v. Wade and medication abortion won’t stop there.

“They're attacking birth control, they're attacking gender affirming care, they're attacking LGBTQ+ rights. And so we have to do the work and roll up our sleeves, and we're intending to do that,” she said.

The legal case related to the abortion medication mifepristone is still tied up in federal court and will likely go to the Supreme Court for a ruling.

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