Fewer NC women accessed abortion care under new ban, data suggests

Fewer NC women accessed abortion care under new ban, data suggests

Abortion rights protesters are removed after becoming vocal, Tuesday, May 16, 2023, in Raleigh, N.C., after North Carolina House members voted to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's veto of a bill that would change the state's ban on nearly all abortions from those after 20 weeks of pregnancy to those after 12 weeks of pregnancy. (AP Photo/Chris Seward, File)

By Isabel Soisson

October 18, 2023

The number of abortions performed in the North Carolina health care system fell 31% in July, the first month after Republicans’ 12-week abortion ban went into effect, according to a new study from the Guttmacher Institute. 

The study found that there were 4,230 abortions provided in North Carolina in June, and 2,920 in July—a decrease of more than 30%. Nationally, abortions declined only 7% during that same time period. 

Guttmacher also found that there were no corresponding increases in abortions in North Carolina’s neighboring states of South Carolina and Virginia to offset the state’s decline. This suggests that many women who would have previously sought an abortion in North Carolina were forced to remain pregnant, obtained abortion pills by mail, or resorted to other, potentially unsafe methods to end their pregnancies.  

“The decrease in abortions that we are seeing in North Carolina is alarming, and I’m concerned that women in our state are resorting to illegal and unsafe methods or are stuck in a forced pregnancy,” Congresswoman Valerie Foushee (D-Durham) said in a statement. “Women in North Carolina deserve better.” 

The report is the first of its kind to highlight the impact of Senate Bill 20, which went into effect on July 1. 

In May, the North Carolina House and Senate voted along party lines to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the bill, which banned most abortions after 12 weeks and imposed a requirement that patients receive in-person counseling before having an abortion. The law includes exceptions for rape, incest, fatal fetal anomalies, and danger to the life of the mother. 

Although having those exceptions sets the North Carolina law apart from many other abortion restrictions in the South, the law also requires patients to make two in-person visits to get an abortion and imposes strict new licensing requirements on abortion providers. 

Doctors and reproductive rights advocates argued these changes would make it harder for women to get an abortion during those 12 weeks or to qualify for the exceptions. 

The Guttmacher study suggests those concerns were valid: it found that requiring multiple in-person visits before the abortion procedure may be more responsible for the  decrease in abortions in North Carolina than the actual 12-week ban itself.

“An additional visit to a provider might be a barrier to care that a person seeking an abortion simply cannot overcome, especially when an extra visit may entail taking time off work and paying for travel and child care,” the report reads. “In addition, the two-visit requirement means that North Carolina providers must schedule and staff twice the number of in-person appointments for the same number of patients to receive care.”

The report also argues that requiring multiple in-person visits serves “no legitimate medical purpose.” 

“Rather, it is a continuation of a decades-long anti-abortion strategy to impose onerous requirements that make it harder for patients to obtain care and for providers to offer it, even where abortion is legal,” the report reads. 

North Carolina doctors and health experts have been nearly unanimous in their opposition of the law, saying that it will also increase maternal death rates and further strain the state’s health care system. 

The law also unleashed a wave of chaos and confusion in July, according to Dr. Katherine Farris, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.

“In addition to causing direct harm to people seeking abortion, North Carolina’s abortion ban immediately caused mass confusion and devastation among health care providers as we were forced to delay time-sensitive health care and turn away patients we were trained to care for,” Dr. Farris said in a statement. “The first month that the new law was in effect was particularly burdensome for clinics as they scrambled to comply with an expanded web of medically unnecessary and onerous restrictions that put more strain on an already limited number of providers in the state.” 

“Even though we are doing our level best to care for every patient, the bottom line is that abortion bans are bad medicine because they tie the hands of health care providers, interfere with medical best practices, and put patients in dangerous situations,” she added.

Nearly every major medical society in the world agrees with Farris and sees abortion bans as dangerous meddling in fundamental health care. More than 1,400 medical professionals in North Carolina wrote an open letter to lawmakers earlier this year, before the governor’s veto was overridden, urging them to listen to doctors and leave the state’s previous law, which allowed abortions until 20 weeks, in place.

In a broader view, 60% of Americans think abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Most North Carolinians also believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases, according to polling.


  • Isabel Soisson

    Isabel Soisson is a multimedia journalist who has worked at WPMT FOX43 TV in Harrisburg, along with serving various roles at CNBC, NBC News, Philadelphia Magazine, and Philadelphia Style Magazine.

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