The number of abortions in the U.S. increased for the first time in three decades in 2020, with abortion pills responsible for the majority of terminated pregnancies, also for the first time, according to new data published Wednesday.
A report from the Guttmacher Institute — which collects data from abortion providers every three years — found there was an 8% increase in abortions between 2017 and 2020. There were 930,160 abortions in the U.S. in 2020 compared to 862,320 in 2016, the first increase in abortions recorded by the nonprofit group in nearly 30 years.
One in five unborn children were killed by abortion in 2020, according to the report.
The increase in abortions was accompanied by a 6% decline in births between 2017 and 2020. Since there were an estimated 3.6 million births and about 930,000 abortions in 2020, the data shows fewer people were getting pregnant, and among those who did, more pregnant women sought an abortion, the Guttmacher Institute said.
Abortion pills — the two-drug regimen of mifepristone and misoprostol, which taken together cause miscarriage — accounted for 54% of U.S. abortions in 2020. It was the first time so-called medication abortions made up more than half of all abortions in the U.S.
The report comes as the U.S. Supreme Court any day now is anticipated to release a landmark decision on abortion rights. A leaked draft court opinion reported in May indicated that at least five of the justices had voted to overturn the court's precedent in Roe v. Wade, an action that would end constitutional protections for abortion and permit pro-life states to outlaw the procedure.
"An increase in abortion numbers is a positive development if it means people are getting the health care they want and need," Guttmacher said. "Rather than focusing on reducing abortion, policies should instead center the needs of people and protect their right to bodily autonomy."
The COVID-19 pandemic may have impacted abortion in different ways across various parts of the country, according to the report. In New York, abortions increased from 2017 to 2019, then decreased between 2019 and 2020 because one in 10 abortion clinics closed during the pandemic.
Some states that issued COVID-19 orders declaring abortion a "nonessential" health care service and closed clinics also saw short-term decreases in abortions in 2020.
Guttmacher identified several factors that may have contributed to the nationwide increase in abortions over the past three years.
States that expanded Medicaid coverage to cover abortion, for example, may have enabled more poor or low-income women to afford the procedure. The report also attributed reduced access to contraceptives for poor and low-income women to a Trump administration rule blocking Title X funding for abortion providers, which "may have resulted in more unintended pregnancies and greater need for abortion care."