Report: Abortion declined significantly in North Carolina in first month after new restrictions

FILE – Protesters on both sides of the issue hold signs as North Carolina House members debate, Tuesday, May 16, 2023, in Raleigh, N.C. A federal judge on Saturday, Sept. 30, blocked two portions of North Carolina’s new abortion law from taking effect while a lawsuit continues. (AP Photo/Chris Seward, File)

RALEIGH — North Carolina appears to have had a significant decline in abortions performed in the first month after new restrictions approved by state legislators took effect, according to estimates released Wednesday by a research group. 

The findings by the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion policies, are based on data collected from a sample of abortion providers in the state as part of its new effort by the group to calculate monthly trends in abortions — both surgical and medication — nationwide. 

A new law approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly over the veto of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper that started July 1 banned nearly all abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, with additional exceptions for rape and incest and for “life-limiting” fetal anomalies. Before July 1, North Carolina had a ban on most abortions after 20 weeks. 

The data showed an estimated 2,920 abortions were provided in July in North Carolina within the state’s formal health care system, compared with an estimated 4,230 in June, or a 31% decline, according to Guttmacher’s Monthly Abortion Provision Study. It found the state had by far the largest decline nationwide, which saw an estimated 7% month-over-month reduction. 

The group’s policy experts contend that while the new 12-week near-ban is having an effect on discouraging abortion, a new in-person requirement to receive state-mandated counseling may be more influential. That requires a woman seeking an abortion to visit a provider to comply with the state’s previously approved 72-hour waiting period, rather than check in with a phone call. 

Traveling twice to a provider, who could be hours away, may be too onerous for some women, leading some to obtain abortion pills on their own by mail or to carry their pregnancy to term, according to the Institute. 

The July estimate “likely represents both North Carolinians and out-of-state patients who are no longer able to access vital reproductive health care due to arbitrary gestational bans and medically unnecessary barriers,” lsaac Maddow-Zimet, who leads Guttmacher’s new study project, said in a news release. 

The group’s analysis cautioned that North Carolina’s marked decline could in part reflect seasonal variations in when pregnancies occur and that trends may change in the months ahead as patients and providers adapt to the new law. The report, which collects data back to January, showed North Carolina’s abortion totals largely steady for the first six months of the year. 

The group said its new data showed no increases in abortions provided in South Carolina, Virginia, the District of Columbia or Maryland, which could have contributed to North Carolina’s decline in July if they occurred. 

The conservative North Carolina Values Coalition, which supports pro-life policies, said it was encouraged by the reduction in abortions as the law was carried out. The new law also included funds to increase contraceptive services, reduce infant and maternal mortality, and provide paid maternity leave for state employees and teachers. 

“It is great news that the lives of more innocent unborn children are being saved and that the new law appears to be working to keep North Carolina from being a destination for abortion,” Executive Director Tami Fitzgerald said in a separate news release. 

After the 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, North Carolina had become a refuge for residents in nearby states like Georgia, Tennessee and West Virginia that severely restricted or banned abortions. Guttmacher estimated abortions in North Carolina had increased 55% during the first half of 2023 compared with half of the total for 2020 across all months. 

Planned Parenthood South Atlantic and a doctor sued in June over provisions in the new law. A federal judge has blocked two such portions, including a requirement that abortions performed after 12 weeks occur in a hospital. 

For the report, Guttmacher officials said that abortions are counted as having occurred when a patient had a surgical abortion — also called a procedural abortion — or abortion pills were dispensed. 

The group said it doesn’t release specific numbers of facilities sampled to protect confidentiality. But Guttmacher oversampled the number of facilities — clinics, hospitals or doctor’s offices among them — in North Carolina to better calculate the effect of the new restrictions, according to a spokesperson.