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Abortions rose modestly in Ohio this year, data show

Dr. Sarah Calabrese (left) talks with Dr. David Burkons, the owner and medical director of the Northeast Ohio Women’s Center talk in an office in Cuyahoga Falls, on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
Dr. Sarah Calabrese (left) talks with Dr. David Burkons, the owner and medical director of the Northeast Ohio Women’s Center in Cuyahoga Falls, on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023.

Legal abortions in Ohio have increased in the first six months of the year, compared to the same period three years ago, as people travel from states with more restrictive abortion laws in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, new estimates from the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research and policy group that supports abortion access, found.

Ohio, which Guttmacher considers a “restrictive” state, has seen an 8% increase in abortions provided by the formal health care system compared to 2020, according to the data. Abortions in Ohio are currently banned after 22 weeks from the start of the most recent menstrual period, according to the group.

Other factors that Guttmacher deems “restrictive” include the requirement for patients to have a separate counseling appointment before their abortion procedure and a policy limiting only physicians to perform abortions.

Despite those restrictions, women are coming from states to the south and west for abortion care, said the Medical Director of the Northeast Ohio Women's Center Dr. David Burkons. More people from Indiana are going to his clinic in Toledo, he said.

“We at this clinic, the clinics in Cuyahoga Falls and Shaker Heights, we're seeing people from Kentucky and West Virginia," he said.

The procedure is banned in almost all circumstances in those states and Indiana. The procedure is legal until viability and 24 weeks in Ohio's other border states, Michigan and Pennsylvania, respectively. Abortions in Michigan and Pennsylvania also increased, the report showed.

At the abortion clinics Burkons operates in Shaker Heights, Cuyahoga Falls and Toledo schedulers try to accommodate travelers while following state law, he said.

“Our scheduling person, if she can, she always arranges people's visit up here so that they can come one day and then have the procedure or get the pill the next day," he said.

Ohio law requires women wait at least 24 hours after meeting with the abortion provider before the procedure.

That means the women Burkons tends to see from out of state who have higher incomes because they often need a hotel, he said.

“With abortion banned or unavailable in 14 states during the study period, researchers found a substantial increase in abortion in many states neighboring ban states and in some states that have enacted protective policies after Roe was overturned,” Guttmacher said in a media release issued Sept. 7.

The data suggests that more people are crossing state lines to obtain abortions, according to Guttmacher.

“Increases in these states are likely due in large part to out-of-state patients who had to travel for abortion care,” the release said.

States bordering those with total abortion bans saw increases. For example, Illinois, which is bordered by Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky and Wisconsin, saw a 69% increase in abortions since 2020.

In the hours after the Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women's Health Organization that "the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion," Ohio’s 2019 Heartbeat Law was instated. That law bans abortion at the point fetal cardiac electronic activity is detected, as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

But the procedure remains legal beyond the six-week limit because a Hamilton County judge put the Heartbeat Law on hold while he hears arguments over its constitutionality. In the meantime, doctors can perform abortions much later in a pregnancy.

In November, Ohioans will vote on a ballot measure that would enshrine abortion protections in the Ohio constitution.

Guttenmacher noted that while its estimates are indicative of what's happening at the state level, they do not show national trends in abortion care.

“While the data emphasize critical state-level trends, they do not yet support a clearcut narrative on national abortion trends. More research, including efforts to estimate abortions provided outside the formal U.S. healthcare system, are needed,” the release explained.

Stephanie Metzger-Lawrence is a digital producer for the engaged journalism team at Ideastream Public Media.
Taylor Wizner is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media.